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Shattered DreamsGod's Unexpected Pathway to Joy
By LARRY CRABB
WaterBrook PRESSCopyright © 2001 Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr., Ph.D., P.C.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy Problem with God
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I am one of the fortunate few. I have real friends. I can quickly name a half-dozen people with whom I would say I have a really good relationship. To be certain I'm not kidding myself, I just wrote six names on the outside of the manila folder where I'm filing the early scribblings for this book.
Now, between sips of my single-shot latte at Angel's Coffee Shop, I'm looking at the names I wrote. One impression strikes me at once with near gale force. The friends who made the list are all friends who do something for me. It's not what I do for them that got them on the list; it's what they do for me.
My first impulse is to feel selfish.
I can think of several people, a considerable number actually, who would speak warmly of what I do or have done for them. But they're not on the list. It's true that the six people whose names I wrote down would each say that I mean a great deal to them, but that's not why their names are on the list. I thought of them because they mean a great deal to me.
Jesus told us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. If I really believed that, maybe the names on my list would be different. Apparently, the people I'm most happy to bein relationship with are folks who give something to me, not the ones who offer me the chance to give.
The people on my list respond to my concerns. They use their resources on my behalf. When I have a need, they meet it if they can. I like that about them.
Rachael's name is at the top of my list. She knows how tired and frustrated I've felt these past few months. She scheduled me with a special kind of doctor who analyzes blood under a high-powered microscope and has helped lots of people feel better. She also found a week for us to get away and made all the arrangements. I can't imagine her withholding anything I wanted that was within her power to grant.
The same with the other five names. It's an old phrase but true: These people would do anything for me. That's why they're on my list.
Like a Little Child
So I'm left with an obvious fact. The people I most cherish in all the world are the people I can count on to do for me what I most want. I suspect if you wrote down the names of the six people whose friendship you most value, that same fact might be obvious to you.
As we ponder that fact, our immediate impulse-especially if we're Christians-is to guiltily conclude that we're therefore hopelessly mired in disgusting self-centeredness. It seems that what we most value in friendship reflects our corruption, our depraved natures.
That would be my conclusion about myself if it were not for the words of Jesus. He told his disciples, "Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Luke 18:17).
Now the most noticeable characteristic of little children (the word Jesus used refers to very little children, to infants) is that they are takers, and often unattractive ones at that. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. points out that when Jesus uttered those words, He was not being sentimental. He was not saying, "Look at the little darlings. They're so cute! Here, let me hold each one."
No, when He rebuked His disciples for telling a crowd of parents to stop bothering Jesus with all those sick little kids, He was saying something very different. If we were there, I think we would have understood Him to mean something like this: "Nobody is more needy and has less to give than an infant. Babies never intentionally give anything of value to anyone. Sure, they can be fun to cuddle and fascinating to look at, but never because they want to be. They never look for ways to bless. They're takers through and through, not only because they're selfish (though they are) but because they're helpless. Be like that! You are helpless, so admit it. Learn to receive what you cannot provide for yourself." He was recommending brokenness, something we live to avoid.
Frederick Buechner wrote, "It's not only more blessed to give than to receive, it's also a whole lot easier." I think I know what he means. I find it much easier to counsel than to be counseled, to reach out to a friend in my small group who is feeling insecure than to reveal my own insecurity. The truth is we don't much like being dependent. We don't enjoy admitting how desperately we long for someone's kindness and involvement. It's so humbling.
Which is precisely why Jesus said what He did. He wants us to humble ourselves, to let someone know when we could really use a hug or some quality time, to let the Spirit know we need Him to change our hearts, to confess to our community of close friends the weaknesses we should have resolved by now.
I hear Jesus telling us to stop negotiating with Him, to stop offering something we think we have in exchange for His blessings. "What do you have that I need?" our Lord is saying. "Look, your diapers are full. You've been a colicky nuisance since the day you were born. And you're clumsy to boot. Every time you toddle around the house you break something. All you can do is receive what you need from someone who has what you don't. When you admit your emptiness, I'll see to it you're filled."
When I hear Jesus tell me to be like an infant, I become more aware of how needy I am than of how selfish I am. And then, immediately, I realize how proud I am. I can't get away from the fact of my depravity, and I can see it as my arrogant refusal to trust. I will not let anyone see my true neediness. Oh, I'll grumble about how people treat me and whine about all the pressures I face and how lonely I feel, but I won't simply say, "I really hurt. Would you spend time with me? Would you listen to me as I share my heart?" Suppose no one responds?
Facing that fear helps me realize that selfishness, at its root, is self-protectiveness. Our primary commitment is to make certain no one can hurt us. The best way to do that is never to be fully vulnerable.
That's the first commandment of fallen thinking: Trust no one and you shall live. The second is like it: To make life work, trust only yourself and what you can control.
The difference between an infant and an adult is this: An infant communicates helplessness without choosing to. Her helplessness is obvious. As adults, we can hide how desperate we are for someone to care. Others will not clearly see our deepest needs unless we choose to make them known. The seed of self-protection is in the infant; in adults, it's a full-grown weed.
My granddaughter was born with a life-threatening infection. Her needs were plain for all to see. Without proper care, she would have died. In the middle of the crisis, there was no evidence she felt even the faintest impulse to relieve her terrified parents with a smile or a wink of her tired little eye. It simply wasn't in her to care how anyone else was feeling. Her tears were always for herself, for her pain, never for her mother's or dad's.
But as I watched her receive the care she needed, both from good medical personnel and wonderful new parents, I saw beauty-not just in those giving the care but in the helpless infant receiving it. I wasn't offended by her neediness. Like the sun rising above the plains, it fits the order of things for a puppy with a broken leg to be carried by a child. Both giving and receiving are beautiful.
It is more blessed to give than to receive-that's true. But for needy adults, who in this respect are like sick infants, something of value must be received before anything of value can be given. Receiving always precedes giving. And that never changes. We never outgrow our need to receive. It's a beautiful thing to witness a humility that receives.
Maybe I'm humble. The six people on my list are folks who each give me some of what I need. I'm not wrong for receiving from them or for appreciating them for what I receive. If, however, I do not give out of the abundance I've received, I am wrong. And if I demand that I receive, rather than embrace my neediness and plead only mercy, I am wrong. Then I am not humble.
But I'm not wrong for having my most valued friends list consist of people I can count on to give me, if it's in their power to do so, what I legitimately want and need.
Which brings me to my problem with God. We evangelicals speak about having a personal relationship with Jesus. We hold out the possibility of having a really good relationship with Him. If that relationship hits a snag or develops tension, we know it's always our doing. Since I was a child, I've heard the saying, "If you're not feeling close to God, guess who moved?" The message was clear: Every difficulty in our relationship with God is always our fault. It's never His.
But especially in the years since I turned fifty, that message has not always seemed so obvious. I've gone through some pretty tough times and, in the middle of them, I've positioned myself as a little child (at least I think I have). But on many occasions, including a few really big trials, God didn't do what I thought a good friend would do, especially a friend with the resources to do a lot.
Several friends of mine feel the same way.
Carl told me just this morning that he had begged God for years to make his desire for holiness stronger than his lust for pornography. It hasn't happened. He fights temptation every day. He loses a lot.
Suzanne privately wishes she had stayed with her promising career in marketing. She is fifty-two years old; her husband, Joe, is a workaholic, emotionally numb and rarely there; her three children, on balance, are more a disappointment than a joy. She knows God could have arranged for her never to meet Joe. She would have stayed with the firm that is now doing so well. God could have arranged things differently. He didn't.
Pete never knew his dad. When he came to Christ at age twenty-two, he discovered his longing for a close relationship with an older man. He expected to find one in his new circle of Christian friends. He hasn't. Peggy is thirty-eight and single. Her job is decent, she likes her dog, and she keeps herself busy. Whenever she watches a movie where a man pursues a woman, she cries. A deep part of her heart remains untouched. She wonders why God doesn't either bring along a good man who would want her or help her to feel more fulfilled in Christ. He's done neither. Mark always wanted to be a professor. When his dad died, he dropped out of college to support his mother and four younger siblings. He got into sales and made a lot of money. Now, at fifty-seven, he enjoys a good marriage, both his kids are happily married and well off, and Mark is positioned to retire early. His heart still aches when he dreams of a classroom in a small college. His dream will never be. When the pastor preached last Sunday on "The Courage to Dream," he told his wife he wasn't feeling well and left.
It's hard enough to develop a personal relationship with an invisible God, one whose voice I never hear the way I hear a friend's voice over the phone; it's even harder to feel close to an unresponsive God.
About a year ago I mentioned to my son who lives in Denver that my messy garage was really bugging me every time I drove into it, and I didn't have time to clean it. I asked if he might help. He spent the better part of the next day making my garage look better than it had in years. He's on the list of my six most valued friends. Both my sons are. They respond to my needs.
My wife spent all of last Sunday in her chair in our family room. She had pulled a muscle in her back so badly that any movement generated excruciating pain. When I saw her wince and heard her cry out as she repositioned her blanket, I knelt by her chair and asked God to take away her pain. He didn't do it. He could have, but He didn't. If either of my sons had the power to end her suffering, they would have used it. So would I.
Sometimes God seems like the least responsive friend I have. It never occurred to me to put Him on my list. The name Jesus did not appear on the manila folder.
My problem with God extends far beyond a muscular back pain from which I expected my wife to recover in the course of time. (And she did, without any obvious help from heaven.) My real problem with God becomes apparent when long-held and deeply cherished dreams are shattered and He does nothing. And these are good dreams, not dreams of riches and fame, but dreams of decent health for those I love and for good relationships among family and friends.
Many of your dreams are good dreams too. You want to enjoy family life. You long for a job you really like, one that gives you opportunity to do what is important to you and to be appreciated for it. You aren't asking for great health or lots of money. But an accident the day after your car insurance lapsed, then your wife coming down with chronic fatigue syndrome-it's just too much. You want to serve God as a missionary, but you can't raise the support you need to get to the field. Your dreams are good. And you're trusting God as best you know how. But nothing is happening.
Depending on an unresponsive God in the middle of crumbling dreams can be tough on faith. Relating personally with a God who is less responsive than friends with far fewer resources is difficult.
Exactly what is God doing with all His power? At some point in your Christian life you'll be forced to admit that Jesus didn't make it on your list of responsive, valued friends. Live long enough, and dreams important to you will shatter. Some will remain shattered. God will not glue together the pieces of every Humpty Dumpty who takes a great fall in your life.
The divorce will go through, the cancer will claim a loved one's life, the Alzheimer's will not be arrested (let alone reversed) by the latest drug. The broken friendship will not be restored despite your best efforts to reconcile. Your marriage will not be satisfying no matter how many counselors you consult or seminars you attend. Your singleness will be an intolerable burden. The budding ministry will never materialize. The lost income will not be replaced by money pouring out of heaven's windows.
You'll feel low for a long time; the dark tunnel will lengthen with no light visible at its end. Your sense of adventure will yield to dutiful drudgery. You will be miserable. Your dream of feeling alive, captivated by beauty and passionately free, will die.
And God won't do a thing. For a long time. Maybe till heaven.
That's my problem with Him. Yet He tells us He is our most responsive friend. He insists that, after giving us His Son, He would never withhold any good thing.
Then why doesn't He cure my mother's Alzheimer's? Why didn't he relieve my wife's back pain? Why doesn't He straighten out your shiftless kid and give him some direction? Wouldn't those be good things for us? Why didn't He arrange for you to get the education you wanted or steer you in a direction you'd really enjoy?
When we see things rightly, we'll write His name in capital letters at the top of our list of friends and, with the angels, bow low before Him in adoration and awe. And hope. I believe that.
But it takes some doing to see things rightly. How can we write His name at the top of our list as the most wonderful, most sensitive, and most responsive friend we've ever had when our fondest dreams shatter and He does nothing? That's the question I'll try to answer in this book.
Excerpted from Shattered Dreams by LARRY CRABB Copyright © 2001 by Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr., Ph.D., P.C.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.