Thursday, May 24, 2012

When a blessing is a withering

Over the last several years, my heart has periodically wandered through the wasteland of blessing-guilt.  Each withering would reach its peak during the early weeks of December and again in late April, just as Bob and I were making plans to go Christmas and birthday shopping for the triplets.  Remorse would parch my heart dry as I admitted that so much needed to be heaved and so little needed to be received.  Despite the recent economic turmoil and our one-income situation, we somehow have enough “stuff” to easily outfit 2 families. And in spite of the fact that nothing really was needed, we’d cobble together a list of “he’d really enjoy another of this” and “she would love another of those” and off to the mall we’d go. 
After our shopping trips, I’d grow restive about little things that could be reigned in around the house in a feeble backlash against the guilt:  vigilantly turning off lights when leaving a room, using a meager amount of water when brushing teeth, making sandwiches with heel bread.  Eventually, the blessing-guilt would spill over into my parenting and I’d start sniping at the kids when they stood in front of the open fridge too long or didn’t clean their plates to a spit shine after dinner.  I’d  point a harsh finger in their direction and remind them of grandparents who suffered without central air or children in Africa who shuffled on cardboard shoes.  As their little heads hung a little lower, I‘d declare that it was time to sort through their toyboxes and make some hard choices because, after all, there wouldn’t be room for new gadgets if we never parted with old gizmos.
In reality, mandatory closet-cleanings and nagging recriminations do nothing to assuage the blessing-guilt and do even less to foster generosity or stewardship in children’s hearts.  To the contrary, advancing a lack-mindedness in our homes achieves the opposite as children adopt fear and condemnation as the basis of their feelings about the sowing and harvesting of blessings.  It’s a truth that the Holy Spirit has been cultivating in me lately as I’m seeking to better model the right frame of mind on the matter.  Do you struggle in this area of life, too?  Here are some considerations for dealing with the issue of blessing-guilt in our homes.   
First, remember that earthly parents create children’s first impressions about supply.  Before children can understand how to Biblically relate to their Heavenly Father, they spend many years observing and absorbing the relationship with their mom and dad.  If the supply model given to them hinges on fear (“I don’t know how we’re going to pay these bills”) or guilt (“we can’t take a vacation this year because we’re paying for your braces”), then children will have a difficult time making the supply transition in their relationship with God when their needs go beyond clean underwear and a packed lunch.  Instead of a peaceful, confident relationship with their Father, they’ll approach the throne fearing that God might not be able to supply a fix to the bully problem at school.  If they feel guilty about going to Him with another request, they might avoid asking Him altogether for help in overcoming a bad habit they’ve started.
What a devastating blow to the kingdom is a fearful or guilt-focused child of God!  Not only does it cripple the life of the believer, it stops the flow of blessing that God promises to multiply into many lives through that single trusting appeal for supply. (2 Cor. 9:8-11)  Instead of promoting these characteristics of lack, I’m learning to encourage my children to believe 2 key attributes about their Heavenly Father.  Phillipians 4:19: “My God shall supply ALL your needs according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ” and Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Peaceful, confident children  blossom from thankful receivers 
into cheerful givers far stronger than those who are bound by worry and regret.

Second, realize that the Bible is saturated with promises not just about essentials, but also of abundance streaming to the believer from heavenly storehouses.  Deuteronomy 28:12 and Psalm 36:8 are just two promises, given before the redemption plan was even accomplished at the cross.  How much more, now that Jesus has completed His mission, are we given access to God’s generous providence! (Romans 8:17)  In my experience, I find that while many believers know that their eternal destinies are secure because of Jesus’ grace, their temporal destinies – the here and now life – are a mixed bag of unknowns at best.  That mindset plagued me for many years and affected how I dealt with some very significant issues that I faced in my young adult life.   Was God withholding supply to teach me a lesson?  Had I already been given too many blessings and this time I had to accept a season of lack as a result?  Fear and guilt held my faith hostage as I ignored entire passages of Scripture that spoke of God’s providential attributes, His pleasure in pouring out His supply into our lives.  Those were dark days for me as I stumbled about, trying to make sense of how to be in a relationship with Someone I desperately needed but didn’t know how to trust.  The chains began to rust and crumble when I got hold of 3 truths.

First, God delights in providing for us. (Ps. 84:11)  It’s not a burden for Him to be asked time and again to come alongside when we are lacking.  His Son paid a very heavy price to provide us access to that supply; for the Father to then deny us would make a mockery of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Secondly, because God’s reservoir is endless, He never has to bless me at the expense of another.  (Prov. 10:22) The answers to my needs are already created and set aside in a storehouse available for me to receive.  God isn’t dipping into someone else’s storehouse to supply me.  Thirdly, God isn’t stingy in His giving; often He will oversupply so that we have resources to bless others with. (Matt. 14:20)  It’s the enemy’s plan to teach us to expect limits or partial supply or even poverty as the design for our lives.  But a fresh revelation of Grace (Jesus qualifying us for the blessings of Heaven based solely on His payment at the cross) broke me out of the prison of fear and guilt and allowed me to approach the throne with confidence in my Father’s love.  With that redeemed outlook, I dug into the Scriptures with enthusiasm to see what I had been missing.  Verses like Matthew 7:7 and Matthew 21:22 filled me with expectation instead of confusion and my quiet time with the Lord became an exciting way to start each day.  Now that my children are beginning to delve into their relationship with God, my goal is to guide them into an early understanding of His ever-giving heart.  The world will present them with many opportunities to experience lack, but they’ll know their Father will always provide for their needs, with plenty extra to share with others.  
3.  Finally, what to do about those nagging cycles of blessing-guilt that we experience when intersecting with our materialistic culture? You know the kind…regret over buying another package of Squinkies instead of canned goods for the food pantry or shame that another Lego creation sits in the playroom while the missionary fund at church is running on empty.  When reflecting on whether we’ve veered into excess or lost sight of stewardship, a child of God will sense two responses: the voice of condemnation and the voice of redirection. The voice of condemnation is easy to hear.  It’s hard and pointed, like someone poking their finger of accusation in our chest, reminding us of all the ways we’ve fallen short in our walk with the Lord and scoffing at our successes in generous living as “not nearly enough.” (Rev. 12:10)  The other voice is gentle, patient and often shouted down by the enemy so strenuously that we miss the voice of the Spirit altogether.  Elijah describes it as still and small (1 Kings 19:12).  I’ve also heard the Spirit described as “gentlemanly”, never rude or abrasive.
From experience, we all know that a squeaky wheel gets the most attention and that applies to the voice of condemnation as well.   But we must remember, in those moments of false indictment, that discerning the Holy Spirit’s voice is our calling.  It is the voice we must hush the world to hear.  The Spirit will never use fear or guilt to accomplish a change of heart because there simply is no condemnation designated for those justified by the blood of the Lamb (Romans 8:1).  Just as the Father will never deny us something that Jesus paid to provide, the Spirit will never support judgment against a child who was freed by the payment of the cross.  (John 14:16) When He sees that we have wandered away from the path of stewardship and have started to spend our resources recklessly, He works as the Good Shepherd to redirect us back to the fold in ways that are loving and gracious.  Hearing the still, small voice requires purposeful choices…setting aside time to read God’s Word daily, chewing it over through the day so that we extract all the wisdom it contains, rejecting competing voices and emotions that try to snuff out our growing trust and peace in God’s love for us.  As we make these choices, we’ll find that those journeys through blessing-guilt become short-lived and infrequent. With lack-mindedness rooted out, long stretches of thanksgiving and confidence in the Lord’s supply will grow and that in turn will seed new desires to live generously and mindfully about our blessings.

In my own life, blessing-guilt still ambushes me from time to time, whether it’s shopping for school clothes or planning the family vacation.  The devil never tires of trying to drag us back into the wasteland of anxiety and regret where he can sap the joy of life in Christ from our hearts.  Thankfully, I’m learning to identify the pitfalls of lack-mindedness and am filling them in with the promises given in the Word instead.  As I focus on the Spirit’s quiet guidance, meditate on the abundant life that Jesus provides and teach my children to rest peacefully in their Father’s love for them, good fruit is beginning to grow.   As a family, we’re enjoying life unburdened by fear, worry or guilt.  That alone is a tremendous blessing in these turbulent times!  And instead of hearts withering by the scorch of blessing-guilt, ours are growing evergreen with a desire to graciously receive and cheerfully give.

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