I want all substance and no filler in my church small groups. It’s just awkward when it’s your first time visiting, you know absolutely no one, and the question on the projector screen reads, “When was a time you thought God had forgotten about you, and how did he come through for you in the end?”
I can’t answer that, I realized. I’m still in that moment.
Josh broke the ice first by talking about his job search. I remember that period well: in that eight-month stretch of unemployment, during which we were long-distance, I wondered if I might have to move back to Ohio, where the cost of living is cheaper and we could stay with our parents until we figured things out.
Others nodded in understanding, while I considered talking about my own job struggles. How I wish I could be a better-selling author. Except that wouldn’t be genuine at all, because I know a writing career requires hard work, strategy, and talent. I don’t resent God for not making it all happen before my next rent payment is due.
Some of the other shared stories were familiar: health struggles, yearning for relationships, coping with losses. The common thread was God coming through somehow with a cure; a spouse; a sign from heaven that things were okay. Keep calm, faith on, and God will come through. I used to share stories like those as living proof that God is real, he is still active, and he cares. I’d like to still believe that. Only…
Can I really complain about my job not paying enough when I’ve never had to worry where my next meal is coming from? I’ve been provided for my whole life; first by my parents, and now by my husband, who did end up finding a good job, and we were able to stay in Colorado. But what about the thousands of people living below the poverty line in America alone? How many of them have prayed for an ounce of prosperity? How many of their children still go to bed hungry despite those prayers?
And I really didn’t want to get started on the medical miracle bandwagon. That’s a new one that’s still quite raw, and I may never let it go. It’s truly incredible when someone’s illness just disappears, despite a doctor’s well-calculated prognosis. I still believe miracles can happen. But I can’t shake the unrest I feel when someone praises God for healing someone of the same disease that killed my father. It makes me want to snarl, what’s so damn special about your relative that God cured him over mine?
There is gratitude, and then there is arrogance. The line drawn between the two is sometimes hard to see. I’m certainly not opposed to giving thanks to God for blessings, but it’s important to understand that sometimes the way we phrase that gratitude reeks of privilege. God healed your loved one, yes. But in all likelihood, he did so via doctors and advanced medical care. If your sick relative lived on the other side of the world, the outcome may have been very different.
I never thought I’d struggle with how to express gratitude for my blessings and privileges, but I do. I’m too keenly aware of how gratitude can be a stumbling block for someone else who isn’t blessed in the same way. The last thing I’d want to do is put out an air that says I’m more special, more favored, more holy, and that is why I’ve been given this thing – a job, a cure, a spouse – and you’re none of those things, so you’re out in the cold.
But I don’t ever want to stop giving thanks. I want to believe in a God who allows good things to happen because he himself is good, regardless of how sincere one’s faith might be.