One Thousand Disappointments

The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured
by the object of its love.

The Life of God in the Soul of Man, Henry Scougal

For some time now I have seen the exercise about called "One Thousand Gifts." I know my mother has the book. At least, I assume she has the book. I have seen it floating about her house, so naturally I deduce that she owns it. I have not read the book nor do I follow the lady's blog who first instituted this exercise, but I understand that it is to help believers recall the small mosaic-piece graces that God infuses into our lives every day. Now I am sitting here listening to Audrey Assad's song "Show Me" and Laura Story's "Blessings" (songs that, I think, are well-known) and my thoughts are running in the other direction. I am not going to write a book about this or start a challenge because I think my thoughts don't deserve that level of attention, but I hope that, in conjunction with the "One Thousand Gifts," these thoughts might also be helpful.

we pray for blessings, we pray for peace
comfort for family, protection while we sleep
we pray for healing, for prosperity
we pray for your mighty hand to ease our suffering
and all the while you hear each spoken need
yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

It is always very moving in the Scriptures when someone has waited long and long and begged hard for the Almighty to grant a request to get what they desire. What comes to mind especially are those who longed for a child: Abraham, Hannah, Elizabeth, among a few. Leah, too, though she did not wait long for her answer: she received a double portion of a blessing of children. It always moves me to see God's gracious hand work this way. He made a way for the righteous through the flood, he heard Abraham on Lot's behalf, he raised up Ruth and put her in the lineage of Christ. So many blessings to see, they choke me with emotion because the image that they produce is that of a just, gracious, merciful God whose heart is bent especially to the widow, the orphan, and the alien.

'cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
what if your healing comes through tears
what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you're near
what if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise

But I think I am moved even more so in the narratives when God says no. When he shuts up the Garden, when he refuses Ishmael, when he does not heed David's plea, when he refuses any more petitions for Israel, when he does not grant relief to Paul. It is very easy for us to remember God as benevolent toward his children, full of grace and mercy, because he is. But I think we get an uneven view of his nature when we focus only on the gifts. What about the things he has refused us? All is his to give or to take, to bestow or to withhold. Are we not told as much about him by what he does not give as with what he does? What was it that he told Paul? "No - but my grace is sufficient for you." Sometimes his refusals are more poignant than the gifts because they force us to look beyond what we ask for to the reason in the Divine Mind. If not what we ask, then what? If not our will, then whose?

what if my greatest disappointments
or the aching of this life
is a revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
what if trials of this life
the rain, the storm, the hardest nights
are your mercies in disguise

He gives graces lavishly, and it is in his nature to be gracious, but he does not give contrary to his just nature. This is not to say that all refusals preclude some sin on the part of the asking believer: was it wrong of Paul to ask the Almighty for relief? Well, perhaps that is between Paul and the Almighty. But there was a deeper lesson to be learned there: that God's grace is abundant and sufficient to be drawn from for the present distress.

you could raise me like a banner in a battle
put victory like a fire behind my shining eyes
I would drift like falling snow over the embers
but for now, just let me lie

This is a lesson that has warmed the hearts of believers time out of mind. It is not an easy lesson to learn and, unlike "your Father knows what you have need of before you ask," it is a lesson that must often be taught again and again, to each and every Kingdom-citizen. Mark what you are not given as well as what you are, and see how both attest to the person of our Lord and his dealings with his people. Whether or not it is a comfort, I do not know, but I recall Jesus himself wrestling with the horror that lay before him, asking if it might pass from him, and saying all the same: "Not my will, but Thine be done."

bind up these broken bones
mercy, bend and breathe me back to life
but not before you show me how to die

7 ripostes:

  1. When we were on our trip last weekend, a couple people were talking about the concept of God's grace and the fact that when someone is spared a pain, they say, "It was God's grace." Which is true, but it brings up the question, what if they hadn't been spared that? Is God's grace not shown in such a situation? I think you answer that well here, because what God withholds is just as powerful as what He gives. Because sometimes a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to show He's near, and the trials of this life are His mercies in disguise.

  2. Jenny and Abigail, I love to see younger women of God walking with Him maturely. You have seized your real opportunity to know Him, and you show Who He truly is. This is a joy for an older Christian like myself. You are able to teach me, us.

  3. Wonderful thoughts, Jenny! I agree--though the title of this post had me desperately intrigued, wondering what would come next! ;) I think of the verse, "My strength is made perfect in weakness." Sometimes we do need to see those hard lessons, and yet how beautiful is His strength through it all!

  4. I read somewhere that If the pain was enough to lead you to prayer, then it has fulfilled its purpose. It plucked a heartstring in me, as did this post. I have learned a great deal from God's blessings, yes, but I think, truly, I've learned more from His Withholds. It is certainly not the easy way of gaining some understanding, but perhaps, in it's own way, it is more rewarding in the end. For, because of our fallen nature, we tend to forget the good and blessings in our lives, while pain or refusal has a way of marking the heart. The hardest lessons are often the easiest remembered. Which is why when I hurt I love and cling to this verse:
    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. Romans 8:18-19


  5. There's a loyalty that's deeper than mere sentiment,
    And a music that is higher than these songs;
    Stuff of earth competes for the allegiance
    I owe only to the giver of all good things.

    My dear Maria, your encouragement is at once bitter and sweet - more sweet than bitter, but I think there is some bitterness there on my part. Of the things God has given me, parents dedicated to a knowledge and wisdom of himself are among them, and that has taught me from a young age. But the bitterness is my knowing that, no matter how mature I may be, I have not put myself to the task nearly so strenuously as I could. Perhaps you did not mean to remind me of this, but I am grateful to you for it. Further up and further in! isn't that what a favourite author of ours said? for the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus: another favourite author said that.

    How beautiful indeed, Rachel! How curious it is that we, as creatures, have the capacity to reason "Why should God glorify himself with such a one as me?" when it seems intuitively obvious that God should be free to glorify himself with any and all of his creation. Still! what a magnificent meekness to be found in our souls to be weak in the power of God.

    Whatever other lessons might be gleaned from the silence of God, Abigail, Gwyn, I wonder if it does not serve this once purpose: that it works to wean us from the base things of this world. What laurel triumphs wait for us which do not wither! What eternal honours hang on our Standard! These present sufferings, these shadow things, perhaps serve to make the hope of the promise of these things stand out in starker relief on our renewed vision.

  6. I've just been thinking about this, Jenny, about how a closed door is God's guidance as much as an open on. Thinking of those passages in Acts where Paul starts to enter some place and we are told "but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them enter." We don't know what exactly happened, but it must have seemed discouraging.

    Then you read a bit further and see all the blessed harvest He had prepared for them elsewhere. :)

    Thank you for this post.

  7. I am glad this has been a means of spurring thought - and hopefully action of spirit. I suppose what I mean to say is that the point of these exercises is not to feel blessed - either when we are given and when we are refused. Those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger for righteousness and are persecuted for it, do you think they feel blessed? No, but they are. The point is not to feel blessed, but to strive after a knowledge of the nature of God. Therein is blessing enough, which cannot be removed.