I was sitting on my cousin's counter, years ago, after helping her get settled in her new house in Phoenix. I was lamenting to my Aunt Nancy. At the time I was discouraged because my brothers were making poor decisions and my relationships with them were suffering. I was explaining to Nancy that I was making noble efforts only to have them rebuffed.
"I took cookies to his new house and it didn't change anything. He doesn't notice my efforts and it isn't changing his life. I don't think I'm going to do anything anymore. I can't be the only one trying. I'm probably just enabling him anyway."
Aunt Nancy kindly asked, "Did God tell you to bring the cookies?"
I was miffed. "I'm sure God wants me to be nice to my brothers. I- I guess I didn't ask specifically about the cookies."
"If you ask the Lord and He tells you to bring cookies and things still don't improve between you and your brother, do you think you could conclude, 'I'm doing what God asked of me and the rest is up to Him'?"
All of my controlling, oldest-sibling, results-driven nerves stood on end.
"Even if your brothers don't reciprocate, you can have peace that you obeyed what Jesus asked you to do in that relationship."
Oh, wait. Something might need to be resolved in me, not just in my brothers?
That warm evening, sitting with legs folded on a kitchen counter amidst moving boxes, I experienced a paradigm shift. It didn't change my relationship with my brothers but it turned my expectations and motivation to the Lord. It freed me from trying to control and manipulate. It stopped me from believing it was up to me to turn things around. It caused me to intentionally pray for them, for my own heart, for God's purposes, in a big sense and in the little daily business of baking cookies.
I read two separate articles a couple weeks ago that left me unsettled. The first was about parenting. It had great Biblical principles about discipline and loving with grace- all things I agree with. Yet something grated on me and I couldn't put my finger on it.
The second was an article on marriage. It was well organized with great helps for marriage: know your spouse's love language, submit to your husband, keep God first and your husband second, only speak edifying words, pray for your spouse. My irritation was building and it surprised me. "What's my problem? This is good stuff." I tried to suppress my reaction.
By the next day when I was still stewing on the articles, I asked the Lord. "What is this about? Does something in me want to blow off your commands about parenting and marriage?"
Then I realized what stirred my defiant reaction. It wasn't the solid principles and helpful tips. It was the implication that if you do this then you will get that. If I have the right amounts of correction and instruction then my child will be disciplined. If I make my home super fun then my husband will want to come home to me. If I present faith in the right way then my child won't stray from it. If I pray for my spouse then God will improve my marriage.
Cynically I thought, "Ha! Often- yes. But none of these are guarantees. In fact God, I'm feeling a little disillusioned at how few of those have worked out for me. I can do all of these things right and follow every prescription and STILL I might not ever get the "right" outcome."
It was as though I was back on my cousin's counter musing, "I'm inserting the right ingredients- where is my product? Is this worth it? Sacrificial effort if I don't get what I want? Hardly seems worth it for poor little ol' me."
This time I was without the insight of my Aunt Nancy, but on my patio in early morning light I did hear the Holy Spirit. "Who are you a parent to first, Shilo? Who are you a wife to? A sister to? Who made you all of these things and to whom are you eternally accountable?"
Is it enough? Is it enough to be obedient and trust the Lord's outcome, regardless? Is the deep work He accomplishes in our souls enough if we don't ever get the restored relationships we crave, the kids we imagine, the marriage we strive for? Because at the end of the day (er, life) we'll be before God giving account for our obedience and submission in how we lived our lives.
Something in me hates that I can't reduce my life to formulas. Just tell me what to do and I'll do it! Heck, give me sermon notes with three steps starting with "R" and I'm on it! I'm a fixer. As a mom if I insert healthy food, Biblical training, and grace with hard work, can't I expect a well-balanced, faith-filled child to bounce out of the vending machine? As a wife if I insert two parts prayer, one part submission, one part affirmation, isn't the model "the-way-Christ-loves-His-Church" marriage obligated to drop into my lap?
No. Only this cold realization causes me realize that my motives are wrapped up in what I want out of my efforts. By His grace He allows me to experience failed formulas and throw my hands up... to surrender. While the measurable to-do list maker in me cringes, the always-falling-short , lover of Jesus in me takes a deep breath and loves the rest this conclusion brings.
I'm currently reading Mother Teresa; Come Be My Light. In one of her earlier letters she says, "Now I really rejoice when something does not go as I wish- because I see that He wants our trust- that is why in the loss let us praise God as if we have got everything." (p.24)
Oh, Mother Teresa. You have an understanding that unanticipated outcomes are God's disguised graces driving us to Christ Himself instead of tangible results. You know that trusting Jesus will only be satisfying.
My relationships with my brothers are awesome now. Honestly, it had to do with God getting hold of them and not me (although cookies don't hurt). I barely remember what it was like to fret over them. I do remember God used it to make me confess my own inability to fix. I remember He began teaching me to be obedient to Him and ask daily what He was requiring of me in those relationships. I remember experiencing that my obedience was enough because He is enough.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...