The unexpected knock at the door. The friendly woman motioning to the candy dish on her table at the trade show or the county fair. The smiling guy with the outstretched arm and the clipboard in front of the library. Have you ever tucked your chin down and quickly turned away?
Of course! We all do it. Who has time for the pitch, the presentation or the proselytizing?
As an assignment for a post-graduate class I’m auditing in spiritual formation, our professor tasked students with planning and carrying out corporate service projects of random kindness and then analyzing interpersonal patterns in group situations.
The reports were fascinating and unexpected. One group of students tried to distribute granola bars, clementines and bottled water at our local train station only to discover that most commuters were reluctant to accept the freebies or ignored the givers entirely. Another task group attempted to hand out hot chocolate on a chilly November morning with the same result. A third threw a free picnic in the local park but attracted few participants.
As I listened to the class reports on how startled the students were to have their good intentions met with suspicion, it wasn’t difficult to parse the dynamics. Most of us are not accustomed to getting something for nothing. If a stranger approaches us with a pleasant smile and a proffered treat, there must be a catch, right? If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Except when it’s not.
I’ve been pondering lately my own proclivity to regard God this way. Yes, GOD.
I have no difficulty viewing him as the Father who loves me, the Son who saved me, or the Comforter who comes alongside me. I accept that when hard times enter my life, as they sometimes do, that He can and will use them for good. Suffering gets our attention, discipline stiffens our spiritual spine, and sacrifice pleases God.
I get that. But why is it so hard for me to accept that God doesn’t only care about our holiness, but our happiness too?
Six months ago, something so amazing happened I still find it hard to believe. A note arrived in my inbox: “Have you ever thought about writing a devotional ? I think you have the chops for it.” The sender: the highly-respected vice-president of a faith-based publishing firm. The catch? None. They weren’t inviting me to send a check to self-publish with them but the very opposite: if my proposal was accepted by their editorial team and publications committee, they would pay me to write for them.
For someone whose first rejection note from an editor came during the Kennedy administration, this seemed too-good-to-be-true. Things like this might happen to other people, but could I trust this unsought gift?
I felt like the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings. This long-married wife of an older husband had stopped praying or even hoping for a child until God, working through the prophet Elisha, granted the secret desire of her heart in a miraculous way. Life with her cherished son was precious beyond belief until her worst fears were realized. On a hot harvest day, the boy cried out in agony, clutched his head and died.
The story of the agonized mother’s race to find the prophet is told in detail in 2 Kings 4:8-37, but the climactic moment occurs in her anguished cry in verse 28: “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”
If you’ve read the story, you already know the ending. The death of the fulfillment of the promise would have been the worst kind of deceit were there to be no resurrection.
But there was. The life of the Shunammite’s son was restored.
So what did I have to be afraid of? At age 64 I had long ago relinquished my dream of becoming an author. I was content, even proud to assist others in seeing their publishing dreams come true. But now hope that had come unbidden could just as easily be broken.
When decision week arrived in September and my proposal was presented to the pub committee I held my breath. A day passed, then another, and on the third day (the third day!) a brief note from the publisher: “Call me, please.”
Mike and I were home packing to leave on an international trip that evening. This is it, I thought. I knew this was too good to be true. The book-baby I had not even dared hope for will not be birthed after all.
And then a great sense of calm. The presence of the Comforter reminding me that the Lord gives and yes, He also takes away. And either way all was well. I had not failed by fearing to try, but in faith had walked through a door that had miraculously cracked open in a way I knew to be extremely rare in the world of publishing. If it quietly closed again, I would always be grateful for the chance I had to peek inside.
So when the publisher’s phone was answered on the very first ring, I started to leave a message only to hear these words after the initial greeting: “You have reached the home of the newly acquired author Maggie Rowe.” Then laughter and a hearty, “Congratulations! We sure hoped that was you on the line!”
When I put down the phone 15 minutes later I cried so hard I scared the cats.
But it still wasn’t until the book contract was signed, sealed and delivered two weeks ago that I let myself dare to celebrate.
Have you longed and prayed for something for so many years that you have given up hope it will ever happen? Resignation is not always a bad thing. “In acceptance lieth peace.”
But hear me now: stop putting your inner pessimist on the platform of your life. Kick worry to the curb. I’m sick of their naysaying. Aren’t you?
If you’re reading these words today, please know that God has something better for you! “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
That child who has strayed so far away spiritually you fear she’ll never return? The marriage that seems irretrievably, irrevocably broken? The medical diagnosis that speaks of endings but not beginnings?
Friends, don’t assume because nothing appears to be happening in your situation right now that God is not at work. Don’t factor the Father out. He can do above and beyond what you can ask or imagine.
As I recounted this story to my longtime friend Lynne this afternoon, she listened carefully to me and to Him before ringing off with these words, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!”
When it’s too good to be true? It just might be anyway.