Do you try to make bargains with God? If you had asked me that question a week ago, I would have told you unequivocally no. Now I’m not so sure.
Lately, I’ve been rereading the Anne series by L.M. Montgomery, and right now, I’m in the middle of Anne of Ingleside, when Anne is a mother of six children. I am quite amazed at all the godly lessons I’ve found in these books. Although I read them and every other Montgomery book I could find when I was young many times over, I never noticed how Christian they are. Montgomery was, after all, a reverend’s wife. I’m amazed that I can think even higher of them than I did when I was a child.
In this book, Montgomery tells a story of Anne’s daughter Nan making bargains with God–if He would make her tooth grow in before Amy Taylor’s party, she would take every dose of castor-oil without any fuss; if God would give her a special button for her button-string, she would take the chipped plate every meal; etc. I sort of laughed at this, but I did start to wonder if God answers these types of requests or not.
Then Nan came up against something very weighty, about which she felt she had to make the most serious bargain of all. Her mother had pneumonia and could very well die. She told God that if He would let her mother live, she would walk through the graveyard at night, of which she was deathly afraid. Anne did make it through, but her convalescence was slow, and Nan felt sure that the reason was that she had not completed her end of the bargain yet. If she didn’t do it, she knew that her mother would fail again and ultimately die. So, one night, she tremblingly made her way through the night to the nearby graveyard. It was very hard for her to get there alone in the first place, but once she arrived, she realized that she would never be able to do it–she couldn’t overcome her fear. She ran all the way home, and from that time on until she talked to her mother about it, she was miserable, thinking that because of her fear her mother would surely die. But she just couldn’t do it.
Right there is where I felt pierced. I know that feeling. Just recently I was telling someone about that same feeling and became choked up because I hadn’t dealt with it yet–I still think God wants me to hold my end of the bargain, one that I cannot hold.
The bargain I realized I’m trying to uphold, a different type of bargain, started one night four years ago when Little E was a baby. I had been working through a Beth Moore Bible study about godly surrender when I was woken in the middle of the night sure that I was supposed to emotionally surrender my daughter to God. I knew I wasn’t supposed to cling to anything in this life, that I needed to let go of everything spiritually and emotionally. I knelt on the floor and sobbed.
I. Could. Not. Let. Go.
I tried in my strength to surrender her to the One who gave her to me in the first place; I tried to hold my hands open to give her figuratively to Him, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bear it. Greg comforted me, and I finally went to bed, completely defeated.
I had never been able to fully get over that intense night until God started the healing by whispering to me through this book four years later. Little Nan was so devastated that she could not do what she thought God wanted of her, and she thought He would severely punish her because she hadn’t been able to do enough. This example showed me how silly she was to think that, how silly I was to think that God expected me to surrender my daughter without His help.
In the book, Montgomery writes that Anne “realized that this small daughter’s theology needed attention.” As I read it, I realized that MY theology needed attention. Anne’s words to her daughter should be commonplace to me–I’ve heard similar words hundreds of times–but as I read them in my context, they soaked into my soul like balm on a wound.
She says, “Darling, you’re terribly mistaken about it all. God doesn’t make bargains. He gives…gives without asking anything from us in return except love. When you ask Father or me for something you want, we don’t make bargains with you…and God is ever and ever so much kinder than we are. And He knows so much better than we do what is good to give” (151).
What is the bargain I’ve been trying to hold with God? It’s different from Nan’s, but I think it’s that He will love me, He will work through me, IF I can do everything He asks on my own strength. I would never say that out loud–my head knows I can do nothing perfectly on my own strength (Romans 3)–but I don’t always believe it. I sometimes still think I have to earn His love and acceptance. And He is rooting it out of me lovingly, patiently, gently, with the kindness of a good Father.
Ephesians 1:3-7 states it well: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us” (emphasis mine).
Also, I love Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” While I still hold back some from my God, the One who gave me everything and everybody good in my life, the One I should trust implicitly by now, He still loves me.
Oh, how He loves us!