Friday, October 16, 2009

You Won't Get a Thank-You Card

Tonight I noticed for the thousandth time my scar. The scar from the incision that was made in my lower abdomen when the doctor drew forth my distressed baby. The scar that represented dashed hopes for a natural birth experience. The scar that reminds me of the painful and slow recovery. And I wondered,

Will Carter ever know?

Know what it all cost me—the discomfort of pregnancy, the crazed, sleepless nights, the inconvenience of nursing, the pain of recovering from surgery. I imagined 20 years from now, when Carter and I could converse as adults. I wondered what exactly I might want from him. Does he need to understand the price my body paid for his entering this world? Would I desire for him to acknowledge what I did?

Do I need a thank-you card from my son?

The answer, obviously, is no. But as parents, making sacrifices for our children, there is something we do want. I don’t need Carter to thank me when I change his diapers. I won’t need him to calculate how much he’s cost us financially, and then reimburse us when he’s older. And I certainly don’t want him to enter into a relationship dynamic built on guilt or fear in response to what we’ve done for him.
But I do want relationship. I want a heart of gratefulness and joy and delight. As he grows older and is able to understand how deep our love runs, I want a response of reciprocated love and appreciation. What I ultimately want is that my son would understand my heart for him and that intimate relationship would result.

And here’s where I think a lot of Christians get tripped up.

Instead of recognizing God’s sacrifice for us, and appropriately responding with love and service, we treat the Christian life as if it were some kind of social contract. Instead of loving God the way a son loves his birth mother, we treat the church as if she were an event in which we participate.

There’s a massive difference between the expectations I have of my son and of the couple whose wedding I attended a few years back. With my son, there’s no possible way to calculate what I’ve done for him. The former and future sacrifices are immeasurable—no system exists that could translate our love into monetary values. With a wedding, though, you can calculate just how much you spend to participate. There’s the money you spend on gas, the bridal shower present, the wedding present, the hotel, and the meals for the weekend. When I attend an event out of obligation or due to some social code, you can bet I’m able to measure just how much it cost me.

The typical experience goes something like this:

You’re invited to the event, you show up, and plunk down what you were told to bring. You smile through the pleasantries and maybe shake the coordinator’s hand on the way out. You pat yourself on the back for your whole-hearted participation, and you’re satisfied for having been part of something successful. After the event, whether you acknowledge it or not, a silent waiting game transpires. Because you know how much your contribution cost you, there’s an unspoken expectation. You deserve to be appreciated and your participation, acknowledged.

You deserve a thank-you card.

There’s a huge danger in superimposing this thank-you card mentality onto kingdom-living. What we do in response to God’s outpouring of love for us can never, nor should it ever be quantified. First, our service and love could never come close to what God has done for us. Second, if our relationship with God is just that—relationship—then we won’t consider keeping track of our good efforts and deeds. True relationship takes on an immeasurable interchange of love and service. Paul told us that love doesn’t keep records.

Acknowledgment, appreciation and even praise are all healthy and fitting for believers. We need to notice each other’s service and celebrate. These practices are markers of a healthy community. But some soul-searching is absolutely critical if we’re going to partner with God for the long haul. The truth is, as you labor for God’s-Kingdom-Come, you’ll be disappointed. Your fellow laborers won’t see everything you do. Sometimes they’ll be too busy to notice, and sometimes they’ll be too tired to care. Even your closest allies will miss some opportunities to rejoice and grieve with you. The adrenaline that once sustained you will wear thin and you’ll be left with the truth of your motives.

If you approach life-with-God as a son seeks to please his mother, then you’ll press through the discouragement, drawing on his Presence and promises. If your approach mirrors the social event mentality, then you’ll throw in the towel. The irony is that when someone walks away from the church because of hurt, she leaves the very source God ordained for her healing.

The scar I have bears witness to a sacrifice that brought forth an indescribable wellspring of life. I could never have imagined the joy I experience everyday due to my son. I imagine that God feels the same.

What a shame it would be to trivialize relationship with God into something that operates by superficial social codes.

Into something that expects a thank-you card.

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