Oh Lord, You’re beautiful
Your face is all I seek
And when your eyes
Are on this child
Your Grace abounds to me.
Yesterday, I heard a knockout sermon on generosity from a powerful spiritual Father of mine. It went to the core of who God is and who we are.
Where we give beyond reason is where the abundant Love of God and our abundant need meet. We give because He first gave to us. When we pour out, God pours in. Others get to experience the generosity of God by our giving, and the whole community encounters His presence in the widespread, resulting Thanksgiving.
But Resurrection and Death are never far from one another. At the heart of this powerful generosity is sacrifice. The Holy Generosity by which we have the power to give came by way of Death. God is generous and abundant, but His generosity toward us is just as much death as it is resurrection.
When we are generous we are transformed in community, but it costs us a lot.
I thought about places lately where it seemed God was asking me to give beyond reason—either giving things up or giving things away—and just how far beyond the material realm generosity with each other extends.
Lately, generous has meant saying the hard thing and withholding all that makes it hard. It’s meant opening my mouth and holding my tongue.
Generosity meant giving away the last word, the right to resentment, and all the resolutions I want to make from that place.
It’s meant showing up when I’d rather be elsewhere, giving away what’s scarce, and pulling back the pretty curtains on my mess that we can all see it Restored.
It’s responding to an “I told you so” with an “I know. Thank you.”
This generosity is not optional.
Our hope and healing depend on it.
I’ve been corresponding with a friend while he’s been overseas, and he used a sentence I don’t think I understand. After identifying the possible implications for a place where we see God at work, he said “Thanks. Now I have something I can dream with God about.” What does it mean “to dream with God?”
I have another friend who calls herself a dreamer. She’s always picturing the future, fascinated by what God could do and how glorious it will be. She dreams of all sorts of things: where she’ll live, what her future house would look like, who she’ll marry, what her wedding will look like, what sports she’ll encourage her kids to play, where she’ll travel, what book she’ll one day write… the list is endless.
Her Pinterest boards are ridiculous.
And as I traipse around Pinterest, I see that at its best, it’s a precious homeland for the Dreamer. (At its worst, it’s something altogether different, but we don’t have time for that.)
I don’t understand these dreamers. I don’t understand the relationship between longing and the promise of the future. I don’t understand where dreams stop before they become impossible expectations. I don’t understand how these dreamers aren’t dented by disappointment.
I’m not a dreamer.
I wish I could be.
Sometimes I’ll have something, and it’s so good, I am seized by the desire to keep it forever. I didn’t know how much I wanted something until I came upon it in a moment, and I find myself wondering what a future with the thing would look like. But that’s different from what Dreamers do. They see something beautiful and say “That. That is my future.”
On a theological level, I can say that. I know the Promises that are supposed to give us Hope in the Future, but the only promises and dreams I feel allowed to hold are the ones that happen after I get to finally leave this planet—the hope of Heaven, the Healing of our New Bodies, and the Return of the King. I don’t feel free to anticipate anything else good. Nothing on this earth will live up to the future reality in Heaven, so what’s the point? I didn’t need to be told “In this world, you will have trouble.” I do need to be told “Take heart,” but I don’t know what that means.
It’s not that I don’t have dreams.
I dream of being a PhD, a professor who’s an expert in something she really loves and gets to teach it. I dream of having a lovely space where I can practice hospitality—to love people through beauty and food. I dream of being a wife—the chance to serve and love someone well, partnering in the work of the Gospel, blessing our community and the Church. I dream of going to my son’s basketball games. I dream of writing a book that speaks the truth in love. I dream of going to Marrakech. And Galway. And Rome without a backpack. Zanzibar. Istanbul. St. Petersburg (in the summer). Bordeaux. Berlin.
But so what? Why would I look at those things with assurance that they’re coming? What is it in me that sees those things and goes immediately to work suffering the loss of never having them?
People keep asking me if I’m excited about my new job. And I’m grateful for it, but I wouldn’t say I’m giddy. Not because the opportunity isn’t worthy of that. It’s a fair question.
But honestly, I dreamed more about what it would be like to be a teacher in Marin three years ago, before all the disappointment and difficulty, than I do now that I have a real school year looming this week.
Henri Nouwen reminded me this morning that “waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life,” and that “this waiting is full of joy since, in prayer, we already see the glory of him we are waiting for.”
I know I am waiting for Jesus. But there must be something broken about my understanding of God’s generosity in this life that keeps me from cheerfully waiting for anything else.
I am not a woman who lives in dreams, but I am one who lives in the present. In the moment, I am aware of God’s extravagant generosity and I am deeply grateful. Sometimes, it nearly knocks me down in worship.
I am not a woman who doesn’t know what she has until it’s gone: I bear the full weight of what’s in front of me. I believe everything is the only one of its kind. We can afford to take nothing for granted—no person, no blessing, no moment—because we get only one.
When I look at Pinterest, I don’t see things I want some day; I see what I already have. I see places I’ve been, photos of landscapes that look like Marin, coffee I drank, clothes I can put together, etc. My Sunday Night church family dinners are an example—nearly 20 of us gather around this huge dark, distressed table and feast and laugh and pray. The sunset and the copper kitchen lamp soak everything in this sweet, gold light. I can’t help myself. I snap photos because what I see in person matches the dreams I’ve seen elsewhere.
I put it in my notebook–up on Instagram, Facebook, whatever. I’m notorious for the silly ways I mark something as sacred. It’s not that I believe doing any of this will help me hang on to a blessing, or that I can keep it somehow. I know it’s fleeting.
But we Live by the generosity of God.
And where we can’t dream, we depend on the memory of His goodness and faithfulness.
So I survive by that generous record, wherever I put it.