I find myself some days lately feeling unaccountably glum. The sun may be shining, the birds calling in search of mates, buds blooming and everything running otherwise smoothly in my little world, but there's this underlying glumness… How come?
As Rachel counts down the days till she can fly this nest for greater things, I take stock of my purpose in life! I wonder what cause there will be to get out of bed when homeschooling no longer calls us to be up and at it… What is the purpose of life without kids? That question too crosses my mind and I voice it to Jim, my voice quavering…
We're doing a study these days on applying the Gospel to life. This week's lesson is on idolatry. There are statements here to shake me out of just picturing gold-covered Hindu gods, into considering whether I have set my heart on idols—anything besides Jesus that I feel I must have in order to be happy, whether a thing or a person, a role or an ability. Where have I set my hopes?
Could this glum sagging of joy mean that I've been counting on something other than Jesus for my joy? Have I let my calling become my God?
Take this statement for instance:
"Every self exists in relation to values perceived as making life worth living. A value is anything good in the created order—any idea, relation, object or person in which one has an interest, from which one derives significance…These values compete…in time one is prone to choose a center of value by which other values are judged. When a finite value has been elevated to centrality and imagined as a final source of meaning, then one has chosen…a god…One has a god when a finite value is…viewed as that without which one cannot receive life joyfully." Thomas Oden, Two Worlds: Notes on the Death of Modernity in America and Russia, IVP,1992, 94-96
Over all these years I've found significance and life purpose in my calling as a mother schooling her own children at home. I've found great satisfaction in it despite the overwhelming challenge at times. That's all about to change. The sense of loss leaves me feeling glum some days. The unknown prospects looming seem alternately intimidating and exciting. Today, I'm excited. New ideas are brewing…new hopes.
But that's just it, my point. Hopes. What are my hopes? Must I really just scramble for another temporary job description in order to restore my joy? Or is this my opportunity to make sure my hope is ultimately set in God and whatever His calling and purposes are for my life at any given stage. If I'm counting on anything else, there is reason to feel deflated!
What do I want, besides 'just' God? And how badly do I want it? Health, 'successful' children, a comfortable income, freedom from pain, longevity, eternal youth?! Are these my expectations? If my hope is set on any of these, as needful for joy, it's misplaced.
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick," Solomon said. False hopes, like false gods, will never satisfy. They're all temporary. They will always leave us heart-sick. Change comes and knocks them out from under us. Then what? Only God is a rock unchanging. David points us in the right direction as he confronts his own glumness:
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. Ps.42:11
As believers we are people destined in this lifetime to live on hope, to set our minds on things above, not the stuff of here and now (Col.3:2). Our salvation itself is vested in a future hope, not yet seen. We don't have it all now. We aren't intended to. I've been memorizing Romans 8 little by little with Rachel and we've come to the verses on hope—strong reminders that the best is yet to come—the glory, the Kingdom, the redemption of our bodies—these are all future tense. Meanwhile creation groans, we groan, and even the Spirit groans on our behalf. And we wait, eagerly, and patiently, sustained by the inseparable love of God.
And in this waiting we seek the interests of the Kingdom first and we seek God's heart, in hopes that He will make His desires our own and conform our desires to His. And this mother's heart imagines what it would be to have the grandkids near enough to pop by Grandmom's house and feed the chickens, pet the dog, have a cookie from that never-empty tin atop the fridge, or make some "Heavenly Biscuits" together… Wouldn't it be great to make an alphabet book together and have first reading lessons, or just to sit and read beautiful picture books…* and I share with God my hopes, but refuse to set my heart upon them. I will trust Him with whatever my future holds. Herein is peace, and purpose. Yes, and joy! Because cultivating a patient, meek and thankful heart, deeply contented with whatever God provides is likely the best prophylactic for idolatry.
I close with Martin Luther's thoughts on idolatry:
"All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in his favor, grace and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry…" from A Treatise on Good Works, PartX,18
"…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in his hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." Rom.8:22-26
P.S. I still regularly check out picture books from the library, a habit I can’t quite give up. For those of you blessed with children near at hand, don’t miss reading this week’s find:The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart. illus. by David Small. It’s a perfect story for springtime. See more here.