I have a confession.
In the 17 years I’ve been doing this mom thing, I have never paid my children for doing chores. They get no allowance for their efforts. Why should they? They are required to do the dishes, cook the occasional meal, and fold laundry simply because they are part of this family. They are expected to contribute.
Beyond that, I do not reward my children for the simple act of obedience.
You came home by curfew? Good girl! Go pick out a new pair of jeans.
Look at you finishing your homework before you hop on Facebook. Just like I asked! O sweetie, you deserve some ice cream.
Pizza for dinner! After weeks of our nagging, your sister finally collected her dirty socks from the living room floor. Let’s celebrate!
No, I expect my daughters to quickly and happily comply with my requests without any promise of immediate reward in return. After all, I’m their mom and I know what is best for them in the long run, even if they can’t see it in the now. Obedience, as they say, is its own reward.
Ya’ll probably won’t be surprised, but I’m a hypocrite to the nth degree.
In the past, when I’ve been obedient to the Lord, I’ve expected blessings, and in a hurry!
Let’s take the matter of dating non-Christians.
Within my first year of following Christ, I became convicted that I should not have any romantic relationship with a non-Christian. Scripture was pretty clear on the matter.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? ~2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV
In my little band of three girlfriends, however, I was the only one who seemed at all convicted by that little wisdom principal. My best friend began dating a witty and intelligent agnostic with a wicked sense of humor. He was just so perfect! Well, all except the one thing. My roomie started flirting with and spending evenings out with an older worldly coworker. It’s not dating, she countered when I cautioned her, we’re just friends. Hah! She was coming home later and later with that telling gleam in her eyes; did she think I was blind?
I was worried about my girlfriends, yes. The roads they were walking would surely lead to heartbreak, but somewhere inside I was also a little smug. In my heart of hearts, I knew I was the one doing this whole thing correctly. I was waiting on love until a man after God’s own heart wandered along, took one look at my faithful self, and feel heads-over-heels for me. And God would reward me with a blessed marriage!
I had a plan. It was a good plan, but it wasn’t God’s plan. At least not yet.
After more than a decade of obedience, long after losing track of my old roomie, and playing maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding (not to the agnostic, mind you, to a witty, intelligent guy who loves the Lord), there I was, still single, not a prospect in sight. Where was my blessing!?! I had been the one to follow the Lord from the start. I was the one who did it right! Why was I the only one of us whose social life now consisted of consuming whole pints of Ben and Jerry’s while weeping my way through 80’s romantic comedies?
It reminds me of a parable Jesus told, the one about the day laborers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. You remember the one? Basically a certain gentleman has more work in the field than he has men to take care of it, so he goes on a quest all day to scrounge up a crew. He goes out into the city center, the marketplace, at various times throughout the day, 9 am, noon, 3 pm and finally 5 pm, to gather them. To each worker, he offers a denarius, a day’s wages, in exchange for their service. Now the thing is, they each agree to these terms. It all sounds fair enough, a day’s wages for a day’s work? Deal! They are content, that is until they start looking around them.
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
~Matthew 20: 9-15, NIV
What was the blessing I was promised in exchange for my obedience? Well, it certainly was not marriage. Never did God offer a husband in exchange for my troubles.
In fact, God seems to parent very similarly to the way I do in this regard. Being fully aware of what’s best for me in the long run, he wants me to obey him in the now, trusting that it will pay off in the end.
And it did, ya’ll it really did. My 14 year season of singleness actually was a blessing in itself, although I couldn’t see it at the time. God used that season to heal me of dysfunction that would have wrecked a marriage: a deep bitterness against men, a veritable slavery to binge eating, a two pack a day smoking habit, crippling anxiety and depression, my daddy issues… the list goes on and on. He used that time to produce fruit: I worked in the nursery, taught Sunday school, ran the food bank at our church, headed up the team that worked the rescue mission, and went to Kenya twice on short term mission trips; all things I likely would not have had time to do if I was married. He also led me by the hand on a faith walk to places I had never dreamed of (and frankly, probably never would have, had I been happily married)- first teaching, then leaving my precious Hawaii, my stint in the desert, and now writing.
And, He didn’t have to, but God finally gifted me with the blessing I was hoping for- a Godly marriage.
But you know what the sweetest fruit of that season was? Sorry sweetie, you’re amazing, but it wasn’t my husband. Rather, it was trust. I have finally learned to trust my Father. What a gift!
(And it’s paying off in spades right now. More on that next week!)
Photo credit: Laurel wreath by Renate Dodell on Flickr; used under Creative Commons License.