Soul-Suffocating: When Good Things Become Bad Things

Most of the children in our town don’t watch the Christmas parade from the sidewalk.  They are proud participants in the parade itself.  Almost every child ends up on a float of some kind, for church or school, daycare, ballet, karate, Scouts, band, or chorus.

It’s the moms, dads and grandparents who wave from the sidelines.

Two years ago, my oldest daughter rode all the way down the Main Street of our town, pulled behind Cinderella’s carriage.  Mostly her view of the parade itself was limited to either the folks lining the street or the few floats before and behind her in the line that she could see.

It was enough.

After we had climbed into the car and turned the heat on full blast to thaw the chill we felt deep in our spines and down through our toes, she asked a question that had apparently been on her mind during the whole parade route.

“Mom, there were Boy Scouts in the parade, right?”

“Yup.”

“So….does that mean there are GIRL Scouts.”

I sucked in my breath.  “Yes, absolutely there are Girl Scouts and yes, they are totally wonderful and great and fun.  But you can’t do everything, my love.  Some things we have to let go.”

Even good things can become bad things.  Like when your five-year-old child wants to do ballet, piano, Awana, theater, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, horse-riding and anything and everything else represented by a float in our town’s Christmas parade.

We’re soul-suffocators, too, cramming so much into our lives we don’t have room to breathe.

And it’s not just time.  It’s things, and media, and noise, and friendships and just about everything that’s not necessarily bad, but which ultimately crowds out room for Jesus in the heart that’s supposedly His cozy and welcoming home.

I’ve grown sadly familiar with the phrase, “Everybody else ….” or “My friend has…” and “The other girls at school watch this TV show…”

Sometimes, I’m not just listening to this mantra, I’m the one delivering the whiny sermon to God.

“If others can have this, couldn’t I?”  “If she can do this, it’s okay for me, too, right?”

We’re sold by the advertisers and the infomercials and wooed by the parade of life that incessantly marches past good causes and activities and projects and the latest and greatest in home kitchen gadgetry.

And sometimes God asks us to lay it down.

These aren’t “Issacs,” we’re talking about, the areas of radical obedience that require us to trust and exercise extreme faith.

As Kelly Minter writes in her book, No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols, “before Abraham could ever offer up the child born of the miraculous, he first had to offer up the child born of his flesh” (p. 128).

Obedience to God begins with Ishmael.

Long before Abraham’s heart-wrenching journey to the mountain where he lifted his knife over his beloved son Isaac, Abraham had to let his other son go: Ishmael—the baby boy of Abraham and the maidservant Hagar.  For 13 years, Ishmael had been Abraham’s only child and while it turned out that he wasn’t the heir of promise, still he was loved.

And when Sarah demanded that her maidservant Hagar and the teenage boy, Ishmael, be thrown out into the wilderness, Abraham begged God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:20).

Our prayers echo his at times.  “If only you’d bless this, God!”  “If only this would be okay with you.  Isn’t this great and good and wonderful and won’t you bless it?”

We ask God to bless or at least tolerate our “Ishmaels,” those good things that aren’t holy things or the extras and objects of our affection that have never been part of God’s plan or design for us, but that we love and hold on to so very tightly.

Or maybe our Ishmael is the way we’ve tried to force God’s promises into being, impatiently rushing ahead of God’s timing and doing things our own way.

Kelly Minter reminds us, “He has grace on our Ishmaels, and yet he is unwilling to allow them to ever take the place of Isaac.  No, what is born of flesh can never substitute for what is born of the Spirit” (p. 127).

That’s no less a step of obedience than the radical sacrifice of Isaac.  It’s the letting go of Ishmael.

It’s submitting to Him our habits, our committees, our involvement, our activities, our parenting, our expectations for our kids, our relationships, our spending, our eating, our five-year-plan for our lives, our ministry, and the way we are pursuing His call.  Even if it’s good or right for others, even if it seems necessary or like it will help us reach his promises faster, even if we love it…we let it go if He asks.

We’re holding out for God’s best here; not missing out on the promise because we’re distracted and satiated, tired out, filled up, and content with everything else–everything less.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Attack of the Mutant Christmas Lists

Their Christmas lists keep growing.

I thought we had it all settled.  In fact, being the slightly neurotic Type-A mom that I am, I turned my daughters’ wish lists into a color-coordinated spreadsheet in Excel that tracks what the girls want, how that corresponds to what her sisters are getting, and what store has the best prices for said item.

Then I’ve established a four-month shopping program charting which presents I can afford to buy during each of the months until Christmas.

Believe it or not, I love this.  I enjoy gift-giving, especially to my children.  I don’t just jot their lists down, I listen to their interests and likes and spontaneous desires for months.  In fact, I begin writing down possible gift ideas on my day planner in June.

Yes, June.

And I mentally categorize their verbal requests into:

A: That’s a great idea!  I wonder where I can get that?
B:  Hmm. . . I’ll consider this one, but I may need to change my plans for other gifts.
C. Maybe not for Christmas; maybe for a birthday.
D. Ain’t gonna happen, honey.

That last category is for all those gifts that cost more than anything else we own in our home or toys that will likely break after the first use or sit dusty and forlorn on the shelves the week after Christmas.  It’s for duplicates of things they already have (how many Pillow Pets does a child need?) and for gifts that just seem downright silly to me.

But still the requests come in.  Like video games and Nintendo DS systems and the iPod touches and Kindles that apparently every other first and second grader in our town owns.

Thanks to birthday parties, friends, and the ever-constant barrage of commercials, my children have mutant Christmas lists.

While it seems so childishly foolish to long for novelty slippers or a new video game, don’t we often want what this world offers?

Perhaps it’s material things that constitute our wish list or physical beauty or instant gratification.

Or maybe our heart’s desires are truly Godly things, but we want them on our terms, under our control, in our timing . . . ultimately looking for fulfillment in them rather than God alone.

…Like ministering because we’re dependent on praise and attention.  Or working and serving because we’re addicted to success and accomplishments..

Or the ever-alluring need to be in Control.

And the oh-so-tempting rush of feeling needed and useful.

These aren’t sticks and stones idols that sit on the shelves of our hearts, so obvious and easily tossed out with the garbage.

No, Tim Keller writes that, put simply, idolatry is “taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing.”

So even the best, most honorable desires of our heart might turn out to be idols leading us astray—all because we’re dependent on ministry for our value or friendships for our worth or anything other than God alone for our identity and hope.

Kelly Minter writes, “It is so essential that the only true and wise God be exalted, not only above all religious gods, but over all the things we put in place of Him” (No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols).

But sometimes we just don’t know what’s lurking in these hearts of ours, not until God takes an idol away or asks us to hand it over.  It’s then we start feeling the pangs of withdrawal and realize just how addicted we really were.

Like when He tells us a busyness addict to rest.
Or a success addict to step down.
Or an approval addict to handle criticism.
Or a relationship addict to walk alone for a time.
Or a control addict to strap in for a wild ride of His design and not their own.

If we were Abraham, a wealthy landowner with status and connections, and God told us to leave and go, would we?

And if we went, would we go willingly and cheerfully, or would we whine and complain and create wish lists along the way to refill the voids?

Abraham not only trusted God and obeyed, but he managed to keep his eyes set on eternal things.  He didn’t look for fulfillment here and now or even in good things that just weren’t God things.

Scripture tells us:

“For he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God”  (Heb 11:9-10).

What tent is God asking you to dwell in?  What has He asked you to lay aside?

Set your eyes on eternity.  Hand over the keys to your house, carry your tent on your back, and trust God to plan and build a city with a permanent home for you there.  He is, after all, all we need.

Check out these great resources all about this:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King