We have a large family. Technically we have a clan. We could probably earn income if we advertised ourselves as a Party-in-a-Van package (this is something I’ve really given a lot of thought to lately!).
Because we are a large family, we’ve had to make many adjustments as we’ve grown. We’ve learned (and maybe are still learning, little by little) how to be creative with space, purposeful with time, mindful when it comes to food portions, and trusting when it comes to money (because on paper there is never enough, but somehow God continues to make it work)!
All of these adjustments have been good…for the most part! We’ve been stretched in many of our capacities, sometimes to the very limits of what we thought were possible. But always, on the other side of the stretching, is an outpouring of increase that I think we can forget about when we’re suffering from the growing pains.
At least that’s what God showed me on a recent trip I took with my two little kiddos. We went to San Diego, originally because my niece had a conference to attend and wanted the comfort of knowing she wasn’t in a foreign city alone. I decided to take the opportunity to spend some time with the often left-behind members of our family. Since they are so little, they haven’t been able to join me on many of the trips I’ve taken. So I found the cheapest little decent place I could, and splurged a little on Legoland tickets as an added surprise. I’ve never taken them to Disneyland, and the biggest birthday party we’ve had in the past few years is a family ice cream outing, so this was a very big deal. So big, in fact, that it made me a little nervous and it took my husband’s joyful, repetitive reassurance to make me believe I was doing a good thing.
As I drove toward Legoland, struggling with the numbers attached to our trip (I’m in charge of the budget, so numbers are an ever-present reality in my mind), God confronted my small thinking. As I was counting dollars and thinking of ways to save more and spend less, He threw a stick of dynamite at my budget and amplified the sound of my children’s laughter and eager anticipation in my ears. And I realized that, in my – in our – stretching, I have been so careful and so measured in everything that I have served up for my children an image of God that is not abundant in much. Truth be told, I’ve probably come pretty close to making Him look stingy and cheap. Of course I never intended to do such a thing, but getting used to measure has put a cap on our experience of God’s divine generosity.
And apparently, God was not content with such an unfair representation because He told me, in no uncertain terms, to spare no expense that day. I have to admit, I argued at first…and I struggled throughout the day with the thought of not living with measure. Such a concept didn’t fit well into the frame I’ve learned to live in…and taught my children to live in with me. It seemed…irresponsible, at best. Nevertheless, it was the undeniable desire of His heart to give my children their little heart’s desires.
I’m not sure why such a thought troubles me, or when it began to. When I met Jesus, I was five years old, and He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He told me that He loved me so much, I could ask Him for anything and He would give it to me. That’s quite a promise to hand to a Kindergartner. If I were the one giving the promise, I would have made sure to attach some rules and regulations to it, to make sure it was properly redeemed. But He didn’t. He just generously poured out His love, and with it His boundless promise. Why is it so hard for me to believe that He would want to give my children the same?
Of course, with maturity came understanding, and I learned to ask within the boundaries of God’s will. Nevertheless, those boundaries – once so wide – have narrowed over the years, and I have subconsciously come to expect and therefore ask for so much less than He actually longs to give me. I have also, sadly, transferred the same low level of expectation to my children. Instead of a God from Whom they can ask anything, I’ve accidentally acquainted them with a God toward Whom they ought to be reasonable in their requests. But this directly defies the Scripture that reveals God as the One “…Who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20)
There have, of course, been some valuable lessons in the stretching – lessons I believe God intended for me, and us, to gain and keep. For instance, I have learned to be content with little. But in the little, I’ve not made room for the much. I have taught my children, by example, to be conservative in all things. But I haven’t allowed them to taste and truly see for themselves the goodness of God that lies beyond the borders of moderation. As a mother, I’ve mastered the art of refusing excess and saying no to the unnecessary. But I haven’t EVER said yes without a good reason to. I’ve often heard people talk about wanting to give their children anything they ask for, but that is a feeling foreign to me. Except for birthdays and Christmas (which come with a one-gift-on-a-budget limitation, I have only ever experienced wanting to give my children simply what they need.
Don’t get me wrong, I say it and I sing it and I do my best to live it in front of them – this faith that trusts God and is thankful for what He provides…even in the midst of always seeming to struggle with making the ends meet.
I tell them and teach them that God gives what we need, even while I’ve often had to tell them that we have to wait to buy new shoes or undergarments, and that the toy they so deeply desire will have to be a Christmas or birthday present because we have to be careful with what we have been given.
I’ve done my best to lead and model a life that is simple, hoping to steer them away from overindulgence. But I think what I’ve come dangerously close to doing, in that process, is refuse them even the opportunity to overindulge by serving up a God who is meager in His provision and not as good as what the world seems to be offering to everyone around them.
It’s not much of a wonder that they are curious in the direction of things that are forbidden. I know the human heart is deceitful and prone to such wandering, but it’s much more likely that they will wander off in search of more when the slice of Heaven we are serving is old, cold, leftover, and maybe a little stale.
Maybe it sounds harsh, but I think it’s important to look honestly at how we portray God, which ultimately reveals how we see and what we believe about God. I’m not trying to be hard on myself, nor am I advocating a life with no moderation whatsoever. What I am trying to convey is the importance of receiving and indulging in the goodness which God really does offer us.
Of course that goodness looks different from season to season. It may not always be a “spare no expense” kind of experience. But whatever it looks like, I am learning that the important thing is to look for God’s great generosity – because it is there – and to celebrate it…and risk embracing it.
I say risk because it doesn’t feel comfortable for me to press beyond the borders of my safe budget and splurge on things I normally consider unnecessary. It doesn’t seem wise to spend money that doesn’t always stretch far enough on things that don’t have a category on my excel spreadsheet. But once in a while, or more often if God so desires, it is good to fling ourselves out on the promises of God and watch Him show off a little. It is good to serve up an image of God to our children, to our families and friends, that accurately portrays His great abundance as a loving, lavish Father. It is good to truly taste and see that God is good. How else will the world ever know this if all we ever portray of Him is a God of limitations and lack?
I know there is danger in throwing off all restraint. I get it. I’ve been a prisoner of addiction and I’ve suffered the consequences of living beyond my means and reaching for satisfaction in experiences and possessions….more than once.
But I’ve also been the prisoner of an orphan spirit, and I’ve suffered the consequences of embracing a poverty that sunk its teeth into my mind and infected the marrow of my bones until all I could see was lack in every direction. And it has taught me that there is also danger in the practice of too much restraint.
Like the prodigal son and the elder brother, there are two extremes, neither of which are great places to get stuck in. We can be wasteful and we can be miserly. But wherever we might find ourselves, there is always one faithful Father Who is rich in love and cannot wait to draw us out of our faulty thinking, and into the truth and unfailing abundance which He delights to provide.
Today, I am asking God to break into the little boundaries I’ve placed around my big family, and to cause all this stretching we have endured to explode into such an increase that everyone will know we belong to a God Who adds and multiplies.
If you are in a season of subtraction or division, if all you see is lack and you are being stretched thin and fear you cannot handle any more of the same, I encourage you to increase your expectation and believe in the generosity of God.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, God only stretches in order to make room for the increase. And He doesn’t bring increase only so that He can require more from you. He brings increase so that He might display His goodness toward you and through you, so that others might see what a gracious God He is.
If the God you’ve been serving, and serving up to those who walk beside you, is too small to be appealing, it’s time to trade up. Maybe a little vacation will open your eyes, or maybe it will just be a quiet moment in your kitchen or your closet where God transforms your understanding of Who He really is. Maybe it will be an evening in front of your Christmas tree, or a trip to the mall to buy the gifts you fear you cannot afford. Whatever the place of your encounter, I pray for you the same revelation which I have been so blessed to receive:
God is SO big, SO good, and SO generous in His goodness…and it’s time we started living like He is! Afterall, He loved the whole world so much that He served up the best He had on Christmas morning: a slice of Heaven so abundant in goodness that we are still tasting it today. And that’s just the way He intended for it to be!
May this Christmas season open your eyes to the riches that are yours in Christ Jesus, and may you serve up the best representation of Him to those you are celebrating with. May you indulge yourself in the best that Heaven has to offer, and may you celebrate like you have received a Kingdom, because – truly – you have!