I love autumn as summer passes and the days turn cooler, but it often reminds me of how quickly the days, seasons, and years pass. It amazes me to realize it has been over 20 years since I had three little boys clamoring about my house. In my memory, those days were bright and joyous. Of course there were also difficult days, financial struggles, and numerous trials mingled with bright and happy days, but I have countless memories of simple moments that I treasured – backyard picnics, sandboxes and frogs, sunsets spent sitting on the tailgate of a pickup while my husband changed water and little boys ran giggling and barefoot up and down the dusty road, and moonlit nights spent on the porch explaining the wonders of the night sky to curious, wide-eyed, little boys.
I am incredibly grateful for my three little boys and my beautiful memories. I was thankful for my boys then and I loved them dearly, but looking back, I know much of my gratitude and love was founded on the self-satisfaction I received from them.
My children added purpose and meaning to my life and while I viewed them as a precious gift from God, I was tempted to love and cling to the gift more than the giver. So the first time I was ever exposed to the death of a child as a parent, it left my faith exposed and gave me just a peak at the weakness of my own heart.
At the time, I simply couldn’t imagine how a parent could go on with life or how they could ever find joy again. I remember for months – even years – every time I would think about the family that had lost their son in a tragic auto accident, I was struck with a mixture of emotions for which I had no answers. I could not understand why a loving God would allow such a tragedy to happen to a good Christian family. I wondered if perhaps it was a result of poor decisions – maybe he shouldn’t have left the house that day – or perhaps it was some kind of judgment or punishment for secret sins. I also considered that perhaps they did not value or weren’t grateful for what they had and therefore God took it away from them. I never completely acknowledged my judgments nor was I able to come to any confident conclusions, but unanswered questions left my faith floundering because if there were no reasonable answers then it could only mean that we either served a God who was not sovereign, He did not care, or it meant He might allow –even purpose – difficult circumstances for His children. None of which I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe in a God who loved me and had only good things for me – things that I viewed to be good like healthy, obedient, and happy children who would grow up to be strong, healthy, adults.
It took me many years, but slowly I learned that God is sovereign despite our weaknesses, that good things – things that draw our hearts to him – might not always look good on the outside but may appear difficult, and that He cares so much He uses every circumstance in our lives to show us His love and His glory. Slowly, I learned that all things which we claim as our own only belong to us because they have been freely given to us and they are given in the perfect condition for our hearts to best receive them. So while they may appear to be imperfect, they are exactly what we need. And… they are gifts – not something we deserve or don’t deserve – but perfect gifts from a loving Father showered on us. We need only to stop and recognize them as such. This recognition of our abundant gifts despite our own unworthiness is where I believe true gratitude begins – a gratitude that lifts our eyes off the gift and turns our hearts to the giver.
I wish I could honestly say I have learned to love the Giver more than the gifts, but it is something with which I continue to struggle even today. Just when I think I can say, “nothing but you Lord, nothing but you” I find my heart clinging once more to my children. Many times as the years pass I find myself wondering what the honest answer of my heart would be were the Lord to ask me as He asked Peter, “Lovest thou me more than these?” I am so thankful He continues to pursue my heart and as I lift my eyes to behold His glory, I discover that which I hold so tightly is only dust and those things that last – those He really holds for me.