When I was growing up in Moscow, Idaho in the early seventies I wanted to play Little League baseball. So, my dad took me to the hardware store and let me pick out a bat from their small circular display. I choose a huge, blue, wooden beauty of a bat. It was way too big for me. I could barely lift it let alone swing it effectively. I have no idea why my normally wonderful and responsible father let me pick that one.
We played in our blue jeans and t-shirts.
I don’t remember a single thing my coach ever said to me.
I never got a hit.
But, I played baseball, and it was incredibly important to me.
This was back when I believed in God the first time. I had learned again and again that if I prayed and believed hard enough God would give me what I asked for. “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14:13, 14). Challenge accepted!
I prayed hard for us to beat the best team in our Little League, the widely hated Yankees. I prayed powerfully like only a foolish little kid who believes in a very literal translation of the bible can pray. I prayed and believed and prayed and told my friends that we we’re going to beat the Yankees.
After I recovered my faith a couple of months later, I prayed for something much simpler. I prayed that God would help me catch bugs and put them in the tent I had erected in our big front yard. I prayed and believed. Hard. Again, this was very important to me. Although, I must admit there was a bit of an edge to my faith, kind of a one eye slightly open, heart not wanting to get hurt again, believing but maybe not really able to believe all the way anymore kind of edge.
I didn’t catch any bugs, at least not any decent bugs. I was crushed.
I did what any rational person would do. I walked away and pouted…for about thirty years.
God let me pout. God let me do a lot of really ridiculous things, but eventually one of us decided I’d had enough. I started learning about praying and trusting all over again, but I never forgot about baseball and bugs.
I spent four years begging God to let me go to seminary (or God spent that time convincing me I could.). Two years later, after I had prayed, believed, and trusted my family, finances, and fitness to God I had ballooned up to 290 pounds (see “Should I be Mad at God for Letting Me Get Fat?). It was baseball and bugs all over again.
Me and God, we had it out, several times. I cussed, yelled, doubted, threatened, and pouted, the whole nine yards. God just chuckled patiently and invited me to a deeper faith that involved my active participation in his providence and my sanctification. Despite the fact that I had absolutely no time available after addressing family, full-time work, ministry, and full-time grad school I had to menu plan, shop, cook, and work out.
So, I choose a goal (this was about four months ago). I wanted to be able to jump up and casually run over to wherever I wanted to go. No big deal. I don’t need to look like Vin Diesel or play running back for the Ducks. I just want to be able to hustle. I want free and easy mobility.
Now that God and I are working together, things are going pretty well. I’ve dropped a ton of weight. But, you know what? My goal has been ripped away from me. My right knee is killing me. It used to come and go, but now it just hurts all the time. I can still walk, ride my bike, work out, and do all the things I need to do to get in shape. But, I can’t run or jump. Getting up is a chore. It takes time and it hurts.
What is going on with our wacky, all powerful, purely loving God? First, I thought it was pick a goal, pray, trust, and get blessed…Nope! Then I thought it was pick a goal, pray, trust, work with God, and get blessed…Yes, I’m far thinner, and that is wonderful, but no. Moving hurts and I’m less able to hustle then I was at 290.
So…finally…here is my point. Gratitude is hard. It requires flexibility.
This is not one of those weepy blog posts about how wonderful God and Christianity are if you’ll just “let go and let God.” It’s a heads up. Following Christ isn’t easy. Prayer and trust are not sufficient. You need to get in the game, and when you do you may not get to pick your own goals. You have to work consistently and despite pain to choose gratitude over bitterness.
Consider praying for awareness of the blessings God has already given you. Embrace the mercy we all float in rather than demanding justice. Accept God’s invitation to develop an understanding of faith as belief in the unseen, as hope and love without proof, and find astounding peace and joy exactly where you are right now.