Thankfully, God is Not The Little Red Hen

bread

My oldest daughter and I read the classic tale of The Little Red Hen this week. If you haven’t read it, the story is about a hen who decides to plant grain and turn it into bread. She invites her friends to help her with each step of her project, but they never do. Instead, they have a multitude of reasons why they can’t assist her (the weather is too bad, the weather is too nice, they are busy, etc.). When the freshly baked bread finally comes out of the oven, the hen’s friends are suddenly eager to share the fruits of the hen’s labor. The hen, however, won’t share and basically says, “You don’t get anything for free – no work, no pay!”

As my daughter and I discussed how important it is to do our share of work and not to mooch off of other’s efforts, my daughter said, but “Jesus gives us bread that we don’t help to make.” How true!

I read recently that, because God knows everything that ever will happen and everything that ever has happened, He knew everything about us at the very moment when He sacrificed His Son for us. He knew all of the things we would do to let Him down, He knew all of the times we would turn away from Him, and He knew all of the times we would betray Him. Yet, He still offered His Son for us – our living bread.*

Unlike the Little Red Hen, God didn’t require us to work for our bread. Instead, He prepared it, broke it, held it out to us, and said, “Take and eat” (Matthew 26:26). “Take and eat” even though you have done nothing to deserve this bread. “‘Take and eat’ even though I know that you have let me down and will let me down again.’Take and eat’ even though I know that there are times when you abandon and betray me. ‘Take and eat’ because I love you. He prepared our Life and all we have to do is eat!

*Flynn, Vinny. 7 Secrets of Confession. Mercy Song, Stockbridge, MA, 2013.

Advertisements

Unbaptized Little Ones

baptism.JPG

When I was a young teenager, I had a dream one night that continues to impact the way I understand life after death. In the dream, God put me in the vestry of my church and told me to stay there, no matter what happened. After a few minutes, I began to hear explosions outside and, when I looked out the window, I saw a dazzling fireworks display that was partially obstructed by the window. I went to the doorway so that I could see better and, eventually, I took a step outside so that I could see the fireworks that were bursting behind the steeple. Instantly, the church doors slammed shut and flashed with light as if they had been struck by lightning. In that moment, I knew that my dreaming self had been shut out of a relationship with God forever. I was overwhelmed with a gut wrenching, all consuming agony as I wrestled with the realization that I was fundamentally alone and eternally separated from God.  The pain that this knowledge caused me was greater than any physical pain that I could imagine. When I woke up, I concluded that whether or not Hell is full of flames, its greatest horror is separation from God.

This early understanding of what existence is like apart from God, is partly responsible for my desire that all of my children spend eternity with God in Heaven. Unlike the mother of James and John, I don’t ask for them to have any special places of honor in Heaven, but I do beg God that they will reach Heaven, even if they have the lowliest place in there (Matthew 21:20-21).

That is why one of the things that has continued to bother me about Noemi’s death is the fact that her unexpected death meant that she was not officially baptized and this means that we have to trust that God has some not-by-the-book way to take away the stain of sin that she inherited as a member of the human race.

I wasn’t raised Catholic so, until recently, I was not aware that the dominant opinion of the modern Church has been that unbaptized babies, due to the sin that they inherited from man’s fall in the Garden of Eden, go to limbo (In fairness, limbo is envisioned as a place where the unbaptized babies are believed to be completely happy while spending eternity separated from God. For me, this is problematic since, as I explained, I don’t understand how anyone can be completely happy while being eternally separated from God). Although the idea of limbo never became an official Church teaching, it resulted in many unbaptized Catholic infants being denied a mass of Christian burial and being barred from burial in consecrated ground. In fact, there are still people who fervently believe that baptism is so essential to salvation that little ones who die before baptism will never be able to see God. Fortunately for me, the whole time that I have been Catholic the Church has welcomed unbaptized babies into their cemeteries and allowed them to have a special burial mass that entrusts them into the arms of God. More importantly, the Church proclaims that there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds to hope that infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation…the Church respects the hierarchy of truths and therefore begins by clearly reaffirming the primacy of Christ and his grace, which has priority over Adam and sin” (International Theological Commission, 2007)

This teaching is more in line with my own hopes for my daughter which began to form when I was a protestant, pre-adolescent listening to The 2nd Chapter of Acts sing “Killing Thousands” (a song about abortion). At the time, I was becoming increasingly aware of the importance of accepting Jesus into our lives and so I asked my mother how aborted babies could go to Heaven even though they had not asked Jesus for salvation. She replied that, while the Bible does not say anything about what happens to unbaptized little ones, God made them, loves them, and died for them so we can trust that He would not condemn them to an eternity without Him, nor would He condemn himself to an eternity without them.

The problem for me is, that while I know that I should be satisfied by both the Church’s recent teachings on Baptism and my mother’s response to my question about salvation for unbaptized babies, my need for certainty often rears its ugly head. It drives me crazy that we don’t have a Bible verse that specifically says, “an unbaptized infant, who died at the time that God chose and is deeply loved by God, will be welcomed into Heaven and bask in the presence of God.”

Without any such revelation, my “by-the-book” personality makes me want to be able to say, I baptized Noemi, so she is in Heaven. I so easily fall into the trap of thinking that if I can’t have a direct guarantee from God, then the next best thing is having an “if I do this, then God will do this” kind of formula to follow. However, this is a dangerous preference, for two reasons. First, if God always responded in a quid pro quo way, there would be no room for grace and where would any of us be without grace? Second, what I am desiring is absolutely not my faith – in fact, it is the antithesis of it. My faith is based on the fact that “Grace is totally free, because it is always a pure gift of God.” (International Theological Commission, 2007) I am saved because Jesus chose to save me, not because of anything that I did or did not do. Yes, He calls me to participate in my salvation through things that I do, but my salvation comes only from Him. This is also true for my children: their salvation is from Christ, not from anything that they do or do not do.

So when I think about Noemi’s salvation, it is no different from my own, nor is it different from my hope that my living daughter will be saved. Instead, my hope for all of our salvation rests on faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. It depends on the mercy of a gracious and forgiving God who created us and who loves us – a God who wants us to be with Him so much that He would sacrifice His own child to make that happen. My faith is full of “confidence that what we hope for will actually happen” (Hebrews 11:1), because of who God has revealed himself to be throughout time and Scripture, not because of anything that we do or do not do. My own salvation may be “by-the-book,” but it is no less dependent on the will and mercy of God than Noemi’s salvation that could not be “by-the-book.”

We believe in a loving and merciful God. We believe in an all-powerful God who is not bound by our understanding of things. We believe in a God who sacrificed His own son for the salvation of his created ones. It is belief in this God alone that offers us hope for our salvation and for the salvation of the little ones who died before baptism. We can be grateful that our own lives offer us the opportunity to respond to and to accept that salvation through the rituals that have been given to us, but we should also remember that the rituals, while incredibly important and powerful, are gifts for us, not gatekeepers to Heaven. We should never forget that God can work however He chooses, even if it is not at all “by-the-book.”

Special Announcement

 

summer

Dear readers,

I very much appreciate your taking the time to read my posts and so I wanted to give you a heads-up about my summer publishing schedule. Starting in June, I will post only on the first Friday of each month. This change will allow me to spend time focusing on two other projects that I am working on and to prepare to teach my daughter’s first year of kindergarten in the fall.

I know that some of you are faithful readers, so if you are looking for a way to nourish your relationship with God on those weeks when I will not be posting, I have a few great books/websites that I highly recommend for you!

For grief related reading:

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

-Grieving the Loss of a Loved One – A Devotional of Hope by Kathe Wunnenberg

Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff

For general reading:

Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning

Confessions by St. Augustine

Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

-Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman

The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

For biographical information about the Saints and men and women of great faith:

End of the Spear by Steve Saint

Louis Martin: An Ideal Father by Louis and Marjorie Wust

-The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

-www.saintgianna.org

-www.mariagoretti.com

For thought provoking, faith-based writing on current topics and life issues:

Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean

Letters to Gabriel by Karen Santorum

The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick

I look forward to continuing this journey with all of you and hope that each of you has a wonderful summer.

~Ariane

The Battlefield

battlefield.jpg

I just watched two Canada geese, with their feathers ruffled and necks stretched straight ahead of them, chase two other geese who were hoping to get some bread from me. Even though I didn’t have any bread and wasn’t planning to feed any of the geese, I was angry at the two aggressive Canada geese since I dislike all forms of aggression. It is no surprise, then, that I tend to pass over Bible verses that talk about the spiritual battle we are engaged in. Lately, however, I have been thinking about them more frequently and I am beginning to realize how much they reflect our reality. Whether I like it or not, we are living in the midst of a battlefield where the forces of evil are doing everything they can to diminish the glory of God and to destroy His beloved children. Of course, we do not need to fear because God has already won victory through the death of Christ but, in this time between Christ’s death and the final restoration of His kingdom, the battle still rages on.

I recently read something that helped me to realize that, in me, the battle is most apparent in my distorted thoughts and feelings. Too often, I find myself thinking that the world is out to get me, that I am not good enough, that I am deprived of something, or that life is not fair. Not surprisingly, these thoughts quickly lead me to feel depressed, frustrated and bitter. *

I have to remember that the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44) and that He loves to pull me away from God’s truth by getting me to believe untruths about my reality. If instead of believing the devil’s lies, I choose to believe the truth of God’s love and abundant graces, my feelings of depression, frustration and bitterness quickly change to joy and thanksgiving. Ephesians 6:11-12 and 14 says: “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in heavenly places…Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth…” Of course, the most powerful of God’s truths are found in the Bible: we are His creation (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 139; Acts 17:26-28), we are deeply loved (John 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 5:8; Romans 8:38), He is intimately involved in our daily lives (Proverbs 16:9; John 15:5; Romans 8:5), His plans for us are good (Jeremiah 29:11; 1 Corinthians 2:9; Romans 8:28), we serve an important purpose (Matthew 5:13-16; Romans 12:1-5; 1 Corinthians 16:12-20; Acts 1:8), and we are saved (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 8).

Ironically, some of the lies that I believe are so simple that I can easily refute them with logic when I spend time actually thinking about them. For example, today I was feeling sorry for myself because of the many “challenges” I face. Yet, when I spent a moment thanking God for the blessings in my life, I quickly realized that the blessings greatly outnumbered the difficulties. In fact, I am so blessed that when I tried to count my blessings, I couldn’t do it!

There are other lies, however, that are much more powerful and can only be refuted by clinging to God’s Truth. One of these is the lie that the story of my youngest daughter, Noemi, is entirely and only sad. While her story absolutely contains sadness, it is saturated with joy! Joy that God chose to create her – a unique person with a beautiful body and her own special soul. Joy that God chose us to be her family. Joy that we had eight months to have her in our lives here on earth. Joy that our belief that she was a tiny person allowed us to accept those months as her life. Joy, unbelievable joy, that she still is, that she brings God glory, and that we will be with her again.

A few weeks ago, I went to Noemi’s grave alone and, for the first time, rather than petitioning God to take care of my baby and allowing me to see her again in Heaven, I found myself thanking Him for Noemi and her story. As I stood there, looking at the ground where I had laid my baby’s body, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for her life and eternal story. I felt God’s sweet victory which won, not only my daughter’s eternal life, but also my freedom to embrace the Truth and to conquer the lies that the devil had strewn across my battlefield.

*Our emotional struggles are complex. I absolutely believe that the battle between Good and evil is waged largely in our minds and hearts. As a result, our feelings and mood can often be heavily impacted by this battle. That being said, I also firmly believe that there is both a physical and a chemical basis for our mental health. Fortunately, God grants us insight into the biological bases of mental distress through the fields of psychology, psychiatry and neurology. I would never want my words to diminish the importance of these fields in helping those who suffer or to make someone feel that their mental health difficulties are somehow their own fault. 

Greater Than Our Blunders and Sins

Greater than all our failings pic

Today I lost my new friend’s son. Fortunately, a librarian found him wandering around while I diligently watched another little boy who, apparently, wasn’t my friend’s son. Still, I panicked when I discovered my mistake and I am sure that my anxiety didn’t even come close to what my friend felt when she looked around the sing-a-long and didn’t see her little boy. I can easily say that this was my biggest mistake in a long time; however, I made several trivial mistakes this morning, too. Someone aggressively beeped at me, so I must have done something wrong. Then someone else beeped at me because I was driving too cautiously. After I got safely home, I spent hours trying to negotiate with our prescription insurance after I made the mistake of waiting too long to begin trying to refill a medication. All in all, it was a morning full of blunders, not to mention the countless sinful, angry thoughts I had.

I could say that this was an unusual morning, but (apart from losing a kid) it wasn’t. Each day I make multiple mistakes, think terrible thoughts, forget to do things that I should do, and do things that I eventually wish that I hadn’t done. Sometimes these are sins, sometimes mistakes, and sometimes they just don’t measure up to the standards that I have for myself. Each time I make a mistake or I sin, I am reminded that I am an imperfect, finite, blundering sinner. In fact, the truth is that if I didn’t know God and how much He loves me, I don’t know how I could bear myself. Yet, because I do know how much God loves me, I am able to love my flawed self, even on days that I lose my friend’s kid.

You see, God’s love is transformative. It doesn’t overlook our blunders or even our sins. It sees us as we are, flaws and all; however, God’s love “never fails.” No matter what we do or don’t do and regardless of what we mess up or how often we give up, God’s love “always perseveres.” Consequently, when we come to recognize that a perfect God wants to embrace our far-from-perfect selves with His boundless love, we are driven to surrender ourselves to Him.

We see this theme repeated throughout the stories of the Bible. Some of our spiritual ancestors made silly mistakes that were recorded for us so that we could see the way in which God embraces our imperfections and does not allow His plans to be thwarted by them. For example, Joseph dreamed that God would bless him and give him a role that was more important than his brothers. His choice to share these inflammatory dreams with his brothers enraged them and resulted in his being sold into slavery. However, God was with Joseph and, through his mistake, God brought about the very plans that Joseph had prophesied. * Centuries later, Jesus’ disciples tried to guard their Leader’s time by turning away children who were trying to see Him. Rather than turning away from the disciples in disgust, Jesus used their mistake as an opportunity to unveil the tender nature of His love when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

Other Biblical men and women committed sins that were documented in the Bible. Many of their stories reveal the power of God’s unaltered love. For instance, God’s love did not turn away from a Samaritan woman who had been married to five different husbands and was currently living with a man she was not married to. Instead, it revealed God’s truth to her and used her as a vital instrument in others’ salvation (John 4). His love didn’t shun a man who was afraid to be identified as a follower of Jesus, but made that man the foundation of the Church (John 18:15-27 and Matthew 16:18). The father’s love didn’t even reject a man who “was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1) and who wrote of himself, “I am the worst sinner of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Instead, it transforms him into one of the fathers of the church and a man who “was an example for those who would come to believe (1Timothy 1:16).

My guess is that we all have times when we feel guilty or just plain not good enough. Whether it is because we see our innocent human imperfections or because we are overwhelmed by the weight of our sins, these feelings can do one of two things: push us away or draw us in. Too often, we let our sins and flaws push us away from the God and cause us to hide from Him. Like Adam and Eve, our inadequacies and sins make us feel naked and vulnerable before a perfect God. They tempt us to say, like Peter, “Lord…you shall never wash my feet” (John 13:6-8) and they keep us from knowing His boundless grace, love and forgiveness. However, if we lay ourselves bare before God, His loving response to our sins and short-comings can become powerful motivators to run into His open embrace. His unconditional love and forgiveness can remind us that we are His dearly beloved creations, that He made us, and that He is remaking us “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14). It can fuel our desperate longing to “go home” to our Father and cause us to realize that we can’t do this life on our own. It can make us dependent upon Him.

This week, I’ll close with a poem that is based on the story of the Prodigal Son which is found in Luke 15:11-32. The story is, among other things, a wonderful reminder that God is our Father, that He deeply cherishes each of us, and that, no matter what we do, His desire for a loving and intimate relationship with us never wanes. I hope that the words of this poem encourage those of you who already know this love to see yourself through your Father’s adoring eyes, regardless of your failures and shortcomings. If you have not yet run into God’s embrace of love, I hope that my words will nurture your heart’s desire to surrender yourself to the One who calls you Beloved and Whose whole being longs to be reunited with you – flaws and all.

Beloved**

I walk the hard dirt road – alone.

I know no one and no one knows me.

My life is bleak and barren,

My body is weak and weary.

I have nothing in this world,

It is all sin and guilt and shame.

I weep as I wander the road, yet, I hope.

I hope because I am traveling to you

And because I know that you can use a hired hand.

I hope because you pay your workers well:

I have a chance to survive.

As I near your dwelling, you see me approaching.

I am too far to see your face.

I fear it holds anger, hurt and rejection.

But, suddenly you race towards me

And we weep together as you take me into your pure, perfect arms.

 

*You can read more about Joseph’s story in the Bible. It is found in Genesis.

**Poem by Ariane Sroubek, first published by the Live Poets Society of New Jersey in Of Faith and Inspiration (2003)