© 2011 David's Harp and Pen
DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear from the State of Indiana or any irate Hoosiers who think I’m making fun of the state. The fact that Indiana has a 3 to 1 pig-to-person ratio, in the pigs’ favor, was one of the very things that drew me to move there in the first place.
In August of 1992, I moved from New Jersey to Indiana to go to college. In 2000, I moved from Indiana to my present location in Tennessee. In April, I had flown to Indiana to see an old friend graduate from college. The time on the plane gave me a lot of time for reflection. I remember looking out the window of the plane as we approached Indianapolis. The time was well after 11 p.m. and the intrusion of the city lights into the night sky had me mesmerized. I would liken it to a giant spider web up against slate, with each strand of the web set ablaze to emanate the loveliest amber glow. I did not find my first impression of the Hoosier State almost twenty years ago nearly as enchanting, but then again, I am thankfully not the same person. I came to Indiana fresh out of high school, an arrogant, know-it-all, snot-nosed, bratty girl. After eight years of letting God work out many of the kinks in my character, I am happy to say I am now the arrogant, know-it-all, snot-nosed, bratty woman my readers see today. *grin* In all seriousness, though, on this recent visit, I was reminded of two very important lessons God taught me during the eight years I had lived there, lessons I work to keep at the forefront of my mind.
The Lesson of the Lentils (Sacrificing Future Blessing for Immediate Gratification)
The Bible is full of stories about those who gave up on God’s Plan for their lives because they didn’t want to wait. Genesis 25 tells the story of how Esau sold his birthright as firstborn son to his younger brother Jacob in exchange a bowl of lentil soup. Several generations later, the Israelites, after they had left slavery and bondage in Egypt, grew restless in the desert and despised the journey which God had planned for them. They forgot that they were God’s chosen people. They forgot all the wonderful miracles God had done in their midst. They despised the Promised Land—their birthright, if you will—because the journey to get there was harder than they initially thought. So they murmured to God and dared voice the idea that they were better off in Egypt.
The problem with impatience and unwillingness to wait on God’s promises is it condemns us to a life of the commonplace and tortuous and to mind-numbing drudgery. Esau’s desire for a regular meal made him forfeit the opportunity to be father of God’s peculiar people. The Israelites’ desire to have what they wanted to eat when they wanted to eat it cost them their legacy, their land, and their lives. They longed for the every day food they had grown accustomed to in Egypt instead of the supernatural sustenance God provided for them in the desert. Elisabeth Elliot said in her book Passion and Purity, “Through affairs of the heart, God uncovers our true intentions: '...whether or not it was in your heart to keep his commandments. He humbled you and made you hungry; then he fed you on manna...' But it was not manna the people wanted. It was leeks and onions and garlic. It was meat and bread, wine and oil--ordinary food.” Leeks. Onions. Garlic. Meat. Bread. Wine. Oil. Lentils.
Why did Esau and the Israelites forsake so much in exchange for so little? They all claimed they did so because they were starving. How many times do we say “I’m starving” when we’re really not? How many times do we make a matter of instant gratification the end of the world when it’s not? Would Esau really have died if he hadn’t eaten that bowl of soup? Will we really die if we don’t have sex right now, instead of waiting for the time and context in which God says sex is the most satisfying? Will our whole world really come crashing down on us if we don’t “make something happen” when God has told us to wait concerning the matter?
New Jersey was my lentil stew; New Jersey was also my Egypt, the place I would’ve gladly stayed because to live in slavery seemed easier than waiting and walking all the time it would’ve taken to get to the Promised Land. I could’ve let immediate gratification prevent me from obtaining long-term holiness and maturity; the pleasure of the latter two would sustain me long after the savorings of a quick meal, which would’ve fed my body but killed my spirit.
Valley Girl (Sacrificing God’s Calling for Fear of Suffering)
I hated Indiana. My first three months there were quite miserable. I could only find fault with my surroundings. One of the things I hated most about it was how flat it was. I was situated in the river valleys of Allen County, Indiana, and I longed for the mountains in New Jersey, which I loved to drive up every chance I got. My bad attitude about where God had placed me continued until I went back to New Jersey for Thanksgiving. I can’t say that New Jersey was a different place, but I had become a different person. During that week, I remembered very clearly all the reasons I had left New Jersey in the first place. Being back in Egypt, in the presence of Pharaoh and his slave drivers, reminded me that even the most foreign and strange of territories, like the corn fields of Indiana, was better than being demoted again to a slave.
When God told me that I would be in Indiana long term, I asked him why. He said I needed to be broken. He said I had many wounds in me, wounds that were like infected splinters all over my body. He said He was going to remove all those splinters in me one by one, and Indiana was the place to do it.
That was hard. The bareness of the landscape did not help. Then one day, I read a story in the Bible I had never seen before. In 1 Kings 20, the Israelites are attacked by the Syrians, but quickly defeat them. The Syrians tell their king, “Israel’s God is a god of the hills. That is why, since we fought them in the hills, they defeated us. However, if we fight them in the plains, surely we will defeat them.” Then God sent a messenger to the Israelites and told them, “Because the Syrians say I am a God of the hills but not a God of the valleys, when they attack you again, I will surely defeat them.”
I had learned to trust God in the hills of New Jersey, where all was familiar and simple to me. I had not learned to trust God in the plains of Indiana, where I did not have a grip on anything. God had to prove to me that He was God in my life everywhere, in the easy places and the difficult.
One day after a period of particularly rough testing, I was driving through the plains and along the edge of one of the many Indiana river valleys. I commented to myself how flat it was in the valley. God said to me, “Yes. You are here in the valley because this is where the really fertile soil is.”
The view is pretty and comforting from the mountaintops. However, the air is also thinner, and it is harder for life to grow. The valley, the flat places, is where the earth is richest, and can foster growth the easiest. At the time, I didn’t need a picture-postcard view of the world. I needed to fall into the ground like a grain of wheat and die so that I could be brought to eternal, abundant life.
So, these were the lessons of the lentils and the valley girl. When I went to visit Indiana a few weeks ago, I was coming from a different kind of Egypt, another bowl of lentil soup, something God had been telling me to give up for a long time. I had exaggerated my hunger. The temptation to stay in Egypt was overwhelming. Leaving that Egypt felt like death. I remembered, though, that I am called to pick up my Cross and die to myself every day. I remembered, too, that the death in the fertile soil of the valley beyond the Red Sea is always in exchange for a deeper, abiding, greater life in Him.
In the other Egypt, too, I felt it. I felt the cracks of the whips of Pharaoh’s taskmasters on my back, making their insatiable demands and offering me nothing in return except a life of slavery. I felt torn between the familiarity, but drudgery, of Egypt, and the valley, which God once again was asking me to cross. I come from a long line of compromisers, ones who fear the valley and the pruning it demands of its residents. Jesus reminded me, though, that I have been redeemed from the fruitless way of living passed down to me by my forefathers, not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, and if I chose to stay in Egypt, to live only once, but die twice, then I was essentially acting as if Christ died for nothing.
I did not start my initial exodus from Egypt alone. The number of pilgrims gets smaller and smaller all the time, though. Some never crossed the Red Sea. Some have crossed many times, but always run back due to fear. Some are still wandering the desert, because they’re so hung up on the lack of lentils they are missing the glory and wonder of the manna, as well as the privilege of being hand-fed by God. Still others have reached the Promised Land, but in their minds and hearts have never left Egypt.
Two things I have learned in Indiana were to not only go for the Promised Land, but to embrace the purification process in the time I spend journeying to the Promised Land. The Israelites despised God’s promises out of fear and a desire to be like the heathen nations around them. Esau forsook his birthright for a bowl of soup. However, I am not a daughter of Esau. I am a daughter of Jacob. He wasn’t afraid to embrace God’s promises. He wasn’t afraid to wrestle with God in order to gain a new name and a new heart. As for me? Well, I want to be just like my dad.