Do you ever hear something that stays with you, weaving like a thread in your thoughts during the week? Last Friday, I heard something that immediately struck me as “the” topic I’d write about on this blog. I haven’t have the time to write it out till now, but the thought has been percolating like that good coffee I love.
Together with my friend Marilyn, we watched a 45 minute interview featuring one of our favorite theologians, a brilliant and wise man named Walter Brueggemann, on the radio show called On Being (a show with podcasts I highly recommend). What caught my ear and stayed with me was a comment he made about scripture.
The Bible can be a tricky book to understand, considering the many cultures, languages, and histories that are behind it all. It is a rich book, but anyone who has studied it comes up against this struggle. It is a lot like our lives – where is God amid all the very human dramas that mark our days?
Brueggemann said something helpful about meeting God in these pages. Rather than laboring under the thought that we have to grasp it completely, he suggested to let scripture come to us, as it will, in fragments. I liked that view of how God can speak to us. Since the Bible is such a rich and complex book, it helps take the pressure off of having to “get it all” and leaves God as poet to speak to us in more mysterious ways.
As I listened to Brueggemann speak, a scripture fragment from my childhood came to mind and as if to prove his point, it suddenly burst like a firework into a deeper meaning. The verse was one that everyone and their dog had to memorize when I was growing up. Dutifully, we’d get up in Sunday School class and recite the verse. It became as much part of our consciousness as the Pledge of Allegiance does to Americans. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Oddly, it was a story I heard about this verse that stayed in my child’s imagination, a story I must have heard in Sunday School. A child had found a piece of paper with this verse on it, except the paper was torn so all that remained were the words, “God so loved the world that he gave…” Gave what, the child wondered? I became the child as I pondered the question. I don’t remember any answers that I came up with, but the torn paper with its message of generosity stayed with me.
I think this verse fragment is beautiful on its own. God gave. I have often believed the opposite, that God was taking things away from me. I was terrified of being judged for my sins and being sent to hell as a kid (I don’t know if I’ll ever completely outgrow this one…growing up in church culture can have odd side effects!) Our family lost my oldest sister to leukemia when I was 7. Later, marriage troubles and headaches further led me to believe that God was taking away, not giving.
As I’ve gotten older, I realize a shift has taken place. My view of God has been healing, from God the taker, to God the abundant Giver. The circumstances of my life have not changed, but my perspective has begun to. There’s a story in the New Testament about Jesus turning a measly 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes into a feast for thousands. Instead of worrying over scarcity, Jesus always assumed abundance in God’s kingdom. The faith community I hang out with practices assuming the same thing. We do not do this perfectly by any means, but it has been changing the way I see God and the world. God is constantly giving. Even in tough circumstances like ill health, God gives. God perhaps doesn’t give us what we think we need, but always gives abiding love so that a rich and meaningful life with God trumps the circumstances.
And so a list has been forming as I have been thinking this week of all that God has given me. Among them:
- Parents who passed on faith in God to me, and who I have been lucky enough to know as an older adult, after my own rebel years with them have passed and I am more at peace with them.
- A faith community which has shown me God’s generosity and love and wisdom over and over in so many tangible ways over many years, and all with a huge dose of laughter. One of the biggest gifts they gave Lyle and I was showing us a way through our early marriage troubles 18 years ago. I don’t know where I’d be without this motley crew of friends.
- God has given Lyle and I this wonderful son who is now a whole 20 years old, working in Germany for the summer. He constantly amazes us with his exuberant love of life and learning and his unique interests. We miss him dearly but are so happy that he’s happy on his adventure overseas this summer.
- Despite a somewhat rocky start as a teacher (chalk it up to needing to grow up), I am becoming more, not less, happy in my work with kids. This may sound inconsequential, but I didn’t ever think I’d say it.
- The battle with headaches has continued, but I have learned that I am not ever cut off from meaning and peace from God no matter what my outward circumstances are. Again, that might sound obvious, but there was a time when I didn’t know that. That’ll probably be a blogpost all on its own sometime.