I recently wrote about the importance of struggle in our growth, and how we’re learning as a family to face our challenges and see them as beneficial. I encouraged those who are in need of God’s wisdom to ask him for it, believing that God desires to give generously to all who ask. This week, however, God showed me in a dramatic way that not only does he listen and respond to our prayers (even though that response may sometimes be a “no”), God’s provision for us is already in place before we even ask.
This week, I felt burdened by the struggles my kids are facing, as well as my own struggle that seems to surface around this time each year. I’ll admit, I was pretty stressed out and grumpy at the beginning of the week. But with the tiniest ounce of faith I could muster, I asked God to give me special insight into my kids and show me how to encourage them in their struggles. Within minutes, the Holy Spirit gave me Bible verses for each of them, and soon I was on a treasure hunt around the house, gathering up items to give my visual learners a picture of how God desires to encourage them. Not only did God have a word for them, however, he had a word and visual picture for me that I was to acknowledge before them. Apparently, God felt like my kids needed to know that they’re not alone in their struggles.
I bought this set of bags at the dollar store months ago. I had a vague idea of how I would use them that never panned out, so they were just sitting in my closet. I filled these bags with items for each intended recipient, and set them on the table before breakfast to pique the kids’ curiosity. After breakfast, I told the kids that each bag represented a struggle one of us was facing, and how God wanted to help us face our struggles.
God gave me the word, “hope,” as a keyword for my son’s struggle with math. Here are the verses God brought to my mind.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).
Inside his bag was a Lego pencil case (leftover from a failed attempt to make a Lego car Halloween costume a few years ago) filled with Lego-like candy bricks that I’d bought for his birthday, but never used. We talked about how he gets overwhelmed and discouraged in math because the problems he’s doing now have multiple steps, so math feels tedious and exhausting to him. He shuts down and just gives up because he feels hopeless that he’ll ever finish. But the “God of hope” wants him to trust that not only can God fill him with joy, peace, and hope in the midst of his struggles, God will finish the work he’s started in my son. (Any other moms need that word of encouragement today?!!)
Just like the huge Lego creations he admires from master Lego builders that take hours of tedious, repetitive building, the work he’s doing now in math is part of God’s master plan for him some day (especially if he ends up being an engineer, which his innate spacial and mechanical abilities would suggest). I told my son to take the Lego bricks upstairs to the computer where he does his math, and after each problem he finishes he can place a candy brick on top of another one, turning them into a creation. At the end of the assignment, he can eat one of the bricks if he wants to (which means I’ll, obviously, be buying more). When he gets discouraged by the tediousness of math, he can look at the bricks and visualize his own mental abilities growing one brick at a time, while being reminded that God is the Master Builder who will not give up on him.
God gave me the word, “courage,” for my daughter who came home in tears after her first practice in the new performance group she was chosen for at her dance studio. Instead of being in the beginner group with the girls she knows, like last year, she was chosen for an advanced group with all older girls and no one she knows. She felt like she couldn’t keep up with the steps and was in over her head. This is my sensitive girl who doesn’t like to make mistakes or let anyone down, so being in the front row (which is a position of honor, but terrifying for her) is even more stressful, especially when the instructor had to stop and single out my daughter for help. She wanted to quit because she feared failing and letting the group down. As I’ve mentioned before, she’s a mini-me, so my heart went out to her. But God reminded me of a verse I had my daughter memorize years ago, and I encouraged her to say it with me that morning at breakfast.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
I asked her if she could face her metaphorical “wall of Jericho” at dance class, knowing that God was with her, giving her courage. Looking up at me with her big eyes and tender heart toward Jesus she responded, “Yes.” I then had her open her gift, a butterfly necklace. I honestly don’t remember when I bought the necklace or why, but I know it was over 5 years ago and had been sitting in a jewelry basket ever since. But God brought that necklace to mind, along with an illustration I shared with the kids about how a butterfly needs to struggle to get out of its cocoon in order for its wings to be ready to fly. If someone breaks open the cocoon, in an attempt to help, it only hinders the necessary work of preparing the butterfly to do what it’s created to do – to fly.
I shared with my tender girl that as much as it breaks my heart to see her struggling, she is in the process of becoming a beautiful butterfly, and I don’t want to hinder God’s intended process for transformation by pulling her out of her struggles. I am who I am because of – not just in spite of – the difficulties I’ve faced. God can use every obstacle we overcome to build our testimony and strengthen our wings to fly. I then pointed to the word, “Best,” on the necklace, and told her that God doesn’t require perfection from her in order to be a beautiful butterfly; she only needs to do her best. (Honestly, I think it was half of a “Best Friends” necklace, which is why it ended up at the dollar store, but she didn’t need to know that!) I also pulled out some butterfly wall stickers that I’d bought months ago – again, for no apparent reason – and told her that we’d add one to the walls in her room after each dance practice, as a reminder that God is using the struggle to strengthen her to fly.
There was one last bag on the table, and the kids assumed it must be for Dad. But it was meant for me. As I promised, in my Pledge to blog the whole truth, I’ll be honest and confess that I’ve been dealing with my own struggles lately. As I mentioned above, it’s nothing new, and seems to surface each year as the holidays approach. My struggle is with contentment. We’re approaching 6 years of being the gluten free weirdos, and 5 years of being the gluten free weirdos who homeschool, so the holidays always usher in the comparison monster who invites me to the pity party of Woe-Is-Me and It’s-Unfair. We’re also approaching our first Christmas in 5 years with the freedom to actually spend money on gifts. For ourselves. That last one seems like it should be a good thing, right? But when you’ve spent 5 years prioritizing needs, spending all gift money on the kids or repairing/replacing broken items, and ignoring all wants (due to years of unemployment/underemployment), figuring out when it’s okay to actually buy something you want is incredibly stressful. In the midst of my misery, as I was trying to sort through feelings and get to God’s truth, God pointed me to an unlikely source of encouragement: my 3-years-ago self. I read my post on Saying No to Materialism This Christmas that I’d written in the middle of my husband’s year of unemployment, and was reminded that the same God who gave me contentment during that difficult season of my life intends to give me contentment now. The verses God gave me are:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).
I was reminded, once again, that contentment in all circumstances comes from God who gives us either the strength to endure and be content with less when we are in times of want, or the strength to live an unselfish, disciplined life of contentment in times of plenty. Contentment doesn’t mean never wanting anything for yourself; it means recognizing when you have enough and saying no to greed. Whatever amount is “enough” is between you and God. So if God can give us this strength, why do I so often feel weak? Next, God pointed me to Isaiah 40:31 in the NET version.
But those who wait for the LORD’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired.
Simply put, when I surround myself with the noise of consumerism and comparison, and plow ahead on my agenda without first waiting on God and seeking his direction and help, I get tired and weary. I get grumpy. I snap at my family and whine to God. But when I wait on the Lord, I find that just like he had the bags and gift items waiting around for me to use, his strength and provision are already available to me. I simply need to quiet my heart and look to him to fill me up.
To illustrate this, God even had a gift to go in my bag. It still makes me teary to think about it. God directed me to go out into the garage and pull out of the “emergency gift bin” a pretty box containing a Santa mug and plate I’d been given 5 years ago as a thank you gift for teaching my daughter’s Sunday School class. Because money was tight, I had set is aside, in case I needed a gift for someone. For 5 years, it sat in the bottom of that bin, and this week God revealed why. Someone else needs to hear this message with me today.
Some things are not meant to be given away. Some gifts are just for me because my Heavenly Father loves me and desires to bless me.
The cup represents my need to be filled by God with his strength in order to be content and do the work he’s called me to do. The plate represents my gifts to others, and reminds me to make sure that I’m giving what God’s asking me to give, not just what others expect me to give. I must be filled up in order to give, and carefully discern God’s still small voice amid the pressures all moms feel to be all, do all, and give all. What God enables me to do and be and give is enough. I can be content in whatever circumstances through Christ who gives me strength.
God is the giver of all good things (James 1:17), and he has already provided everything we need to live the life he’s called us to live (2 Peter 1:3). Perhaps, what you need is even in your closet or emergency gift bin right now! Ask God to show you what what he has set aside for you today, and trust him to give you hope, courage, and strength.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – Ephesians 3:20
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