In many ways, life in this fallen world is an ongoing series of unmet expectations. But sometimes we experience a sharp knife of disappointment that pierces our heart in such a way that it threatens to consume us with its dark emotion. Even when we have a sound theological framework in which to house the pain of this kind of disappointment, it can blindside us enough to leave us groping for answers in a sea of confusion. The majority of my counseling time is spent with those whose heart is barely beating under the weight of deep disappointment. And in many cases, a seed of bitterness is struggling to take root because of misunderstanding about the reward and blessing of the Lord.
While verbally rejecting a prosperity gospel, there are many who give testimony to having unwittingly imbibed the message that if they prayed fervently enough, sacrificed selflessly enough, taught the Word diligently enough, and sought God faithfully enough, the fruit and blessing of their effort would be seen in the reward of a happy marriage, a loving and faithful spouse, a quiver filled with healthy offspring, teens who don't rebel, and adult children who live for eternity. In their desire to reap the blessing of these good things they testify how, in all of their sinful imperfection, they set out with fierce determination to pray, and sacrifice, and teach, and seek. They testify that, in spite of all their flaws and failures they kept fumbling along on their journey of grace, persevering with a vision of favorable reward clutched fiercely in their hand and held firmly in their heart.
For some, the hope of that reward was delivered as a beautifully wrapped gift of grace just as imagined, tied with ribbons of realized dreams and topped with a bow of rendered desire. But for others, the hope of that reward didn't come in the form of a neatly wrapped gift of grace. It's not that blessing didn't come, for blessing always comes as a gift of grace just as we're promised.
But it doesn't always come as the neatly packaged gift of our imagination. Sometimes it arrives so badly torn and tattered that nothing within us can muster the belief that it's a good gift. Feeling the painful sting of betrayal, it's a delivery that's met with our stiff arms and silent screams of rejection. Having watched beautiful packages of blessing being delivered to others, we can experience the cruel pangs of feeling cheated out of something we believe we earned the right to receive.
I made purity a priority when I was a passionate and hormonal teen, and like a sentinel guarding a castle door I was determined to keep my body for the pleasure of my husband alone. It was the right thing to do, right enough to fill my self-righteous heart with the silent expectation of earned matrimonial bliss littered with the fruit of my womb. Two years into a marriage filled with more bumps than a braille alphabet, I watched year after year as beautiful gifts of grace wrapped in pink and blue perfection were delivered to my friends while I stood at my door with empty arms and a broken heart. The pain seemed too great to find housing within my theological framework, and as it spilled over its borders I found myself fighting to accept the torn and tattered gift of infertility that God had sovereignly delivered.
But God is faithful, and I praise Him for the amazing grace that kept me from rejecting that gift in bitterness and slamming shut the door of my heart. Because that gift, as difficult as it was to receive, was an integral part of His grand plan of redemption for my life. He had another very special delivery for me, one that came in the blessing of two children sent to us through adoption. Even if I were given the power to relive my life orchestrated according to my own desire, I would never exchange God's beautiful gift of infertility for my own puny dreams. Not just because of an outcome involving two beautiful children, but because His gifts always come with the guarantee of something better than our dreams. The gift of infertility was a raw and painful delivery, but it came with the priceless gift of Jesus.
Years later, when our beloved son was struggling and slipping deeper into addiction, my theological framework once again took a beating as I was shaken to the core. Even more than when the gift of infertility was delivered, every fiber of my being screamed rejection. I stood at the door trying so desperately to slam it shut on that delivery, but God's strong and unrelenting love constrained me. His arms of grace held me in my utter brokenness, as He bowed my knee and lifted my eyes upward.
With that painful delivery came the gift of Jesus once again, and I saw Him as I've never seen Him before. And as Job, I was able to say with every piece of my shattered heart, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you." (Job 42:5)
The reward of loving God and seeking to honor His Word is about something so much greater than anything our feeble imagination can create. It's about Jesus Christ. The reward is that we get Jesus. And He is everything.
So by grace we can walk by faith and not by fear, trusting every outcome to the One Who does all things well. We can live without fear, we can marry without fear, we can parent without fear, we can age without fear. Not because of the guarantee of any outcome, but because of the guarantee of Jesus.