I hate shopping. It seems like most men would love that in a wife, but it drives my husband crazy. This is how shopping works at my house. My husband and I and our two girls pile into the truck. We head out to the local warehouse club with abandon. Going up and down the aisles, my husband is a prodigal father, lavishing extravagant gifts on his daughters. My girls are still young enough to light up with excitement over cereal that turns milk green and candy that makes tattoos on your tongue. I get caught up in the moment, but still manage to maintain a voice of reason. I routinely veto four or five items per trip. “Last time, they didn’t finish that and we had to throw it away.” “It’s really a lot of sugar; can we get something besides junk food?” “We still have two boxes of that at home!”
About halfway through the store, I realize with dread he’s about to turn his attention to me. “What did you get for you, babe?” Oh, I’m all set. “How about some chocolate?” “Nah, I still have some at home.” “Look, you haven’t bought this in a while.” Somewhere around aisle six my stress hormones kick in. Cortizol and epinephrine rush through my body with dramatic effect. My heart beats too fast, my arteries widen, my lungs take short, shallow breaths. Power courses through me until I feel big enough to knock all the food off the shelves and run all the way home, but I quietly stroll along as if nothing is wrong. When my confused brain doesn’t get the reaction it needs from my intractable body, the opiates come. My daughter calls this ‘shut-down mode’. I can be rounding a corner, faking it. I can be in the middle of talking and laughing with my family and suddenly I’m gone. I’m floating above my body, out of reach. My brain has produced pain killers for a pain that is as invisible as I feel. My daughter pulls hard on my arm, “stay with me, Mom”, she says.
I know what causes it. I’ve lost the ability to Need. You see, my twelfth birthday present had a profound effect on me, though not the one my mom intended. I can still fill up a blank page with wishes: a kayak, a piano, a trip to Disney World with my family, OK, maybe a motorcycle. My want button still works, but my need button is broken.
And why are you anxious about clothing?
Observe how the lilies of the field grow;
They do not toil nor do they spin,
Yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory
did not clothe himself like one of these.
But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today
and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace,
Will He not much more do so for you,
O men of little faith?
Matthew 6:28-30, NASB
God promised to clothe me. From the time I left home until the time I married, I spent almost nothing on clothes. As my clothes became stained and worn I just wore them anyway. Sometimes at odd intervals, a friend would come around with a big, black, plastic bag. “I just went through my closet and decided to get rid of some stuff. Why don’t you see if there’s anything you can use?” I remember the awkward days of middle school when we had painfully little money. I knew what it felt like to be tormented, teased, pushed, hit, kicked, even spat on by my classmates. I knew it had a lot to do with my clothes. Is that what God meant by His promise? Through what divine loophole did I slip?
When I got married, I moved into my husband’s small one-bedroom apartment. I moved my clothes into his newly-emptied drawers. My underwear made him angry. He held up the stringy elastic with loops of cloth hanging down and began to boil inside. He grabbed all my underwear and flung it into the trash can in disgust. He looked deep into my eyes and said intensely, “We’re not that Poor!” We immediately bought shiny, new multi-packs of underwear from the store for me. “You’ll never be that Poor again,” he assured me.
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow,
Neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,
And yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not worth much more than they?
Matthew 6:26, NASB
God promised to feed me. Yet I remember hungry nights. I remember looking desperately through empty cupboards wondering what I could feed to my precious, hungry little sister. Is that what God meant by His promise? I hear preachers claim this promise again and again. “God will always feed you, there’s no need to worry.” Yet, I know that millions of children go to bed hungry every night. Thousands starve to death with bloated, empty bellies. As I now sit fat and happy in my middle-class American life, I can’t help but think about these ‘loophole people’. No amount of personal un-Wishing will fill their hungry stomachs. What is God’s explanation for that? What Grand Unification Theory of Infinite Justice can reconcile these mutually exclusive truths? God is all powerful. God cannot lie. God promises us safety. We are not all safe.
What loophole did I miss? Did I not have enough faith? On the contrary! Faith is all I had. My faith was much stronger when I was completely helpless, completely dependent on God’s favor. I like Job, question God, pleading for an explanation. Like Job, I will not, cannot curse Him. I know and have experienced His Goodness. I believe an answer exists, one that I cannot yet understand. At the end of his pain, Job received an answer from God, but not a real one. God never answered Job’s question. He stubbornly refused to answer.
In the same way, I have received an answer, but not an explanation. My answer came not from a cloud, but from a gentle whisper. God’s answer to me is clear, even if it isn’t satisfying. God simply answers me by saying, “Hold on to that Faith, Lisa. It’s what got you through.”