Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Grass is Greener Over There

Jealousy. Not a pretty word. Not something to be proud of. But this “the-grass-is-greener-over-there” mentality has been plaguing my soul. 

It usually starts out as a dull ache somewhere between my stomach and heart—a desire for something more than just an arm’s length away. At times it is just plain old Cain and Abel jealousy.  Yet more than once I’ve wondered if God were not trying to get my attention by planting a desire in my heart.  

This past Mother’s Day I volunteered at the Evanston History Center annual House Walk. Every few Saturdays I walk past these beautiful homes on my way to the History Center, but the house walk is a special occasion to get a peek inside. My favorites are always the Prairie style homes. Frank Lloyd Wright and his friends really knew how to make my heart happy (if that sort of retrospective knowledge is possible). I have an honest appreciate for these homes as beautiful works of architecture; it would be a pleasure just to walk past them every couple weeks. But the ugly green monster rears its head and I find myself pushed to despair. “Who am I to desire such things? I could never afford such a beautiful house . . . I can’t even afford my tangible dreams.” 

Gorgeous houses in Evanston, friends graduating with amazing prospects for jobs and travel, relationships that do not exist—it’s all the same. The list could go on and on. But I don’t want to be dissatisfied. It’s not a pretty feeling. And as much as I try, it is not pushing me to do better at what I have. Instead I find myself holding chocolate-sponsored pity parties and screaming inaudible prayers. 
But as always, the Lord is merciful. 

Back in December a friend of mine recommended I read a few books by Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of the late Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador. I thanked her for the suggestion and mentally filed it way for a time when I needed something to read.  Needless to say, life got in the way. Silly little things like favorite TV shows and my endless task of job-searching. But a few weeks ago I felt prompted to read her works over the summer.  I hauled them home from the library and placed them in a neat stack near my bed. They sat there for about a week while I completed the more important task of finishing “Jane Eyre” (a must-read if you haven’t already!). Once fortified, I now had the concentration for some works of non-fiction. Boy was I blown away. Such wisdom she has to impart!

In “Keep a Quiet Heart” Elliot recalls various passages she has written to her friends and ministry supporters through the years.  Near the beginning of her chronicles she says,

All of the past, I believe, is a part of God’s story of each child of His—a mystery of love and sovereignty, written before the foundation of the world, never a hindrance to the task He has designed for us, but rather they very preparation suited to our particular personality’s need.(Elliot, 24)

Later in the passage (And this is really what my heart needed to hear!), she goes on to say,

            Life is likely to continue to hold many forms of torture and dismay for that unhappy  
            person and for all who refuse to receive with thanksgiving instead of complaint the 
            place in life God has chosen for them. The torture is self-inflicted, for God has not 
            rejected their prayers. He knows better than any of us do that furthers our salvation.    
           Our true happiness is to be realized precisely through his refusals, which are always 
           mercies. His choice is flawlessly contrived to give the deepest kind of joy as soon as it 
           is embraced. (Elliot, 50)

I am becoming better acquainted with the nature of my problem. Pastor and author Matt Chandler hit the nail right on the head in his recent sermon at Chicago’s’ Christ and the City conference: I am a shallow rejoicer. I rejoice (or the opposite of rejoice, covet after--) creation, rather than the Creator. When I wallow in self-pity and wish beautiful houses, well-paying jobs and relationships upon myself, I am not rejoicing in what the Lord has done. I am not allowing Him to stir up a desire in my heart for His mercy. My prayers are all too often for my own desires and worries to be fulfilled. 

But there is hope, dear soul. Chandler encourages, “Remembering rightly redeems our rejoicing.” The Lord’s commands are not to rob us of joy but to lead us into joy. And as Elliot reminisced, some of God’s greatest mercies are His refusals.”Whenever I have yielded, I have found joy.” (Elliot, 33).
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