Pondering Pumpkin Pie

A confession. I don’t care for pumpkin pie. Never have.

I found myself nodding in agreement this week with a person on Twitter who wrote, “The best piece of pumpkin pie I’ve ever had was not all that much better than the worst piece I’ve ever had.” It’s a simple recipe with a pretty narrow range of outcomes, it seems.

If you love it  . . . more power to you. You can have mine. But the fact that most people feel compelled to ladle copious quantities of whipped cream on every slice they consume isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of how it tastes on its own. Just sayin’, as they say.

Pecan? Coconut Cream? Buttermilk? Chocolate? Include me in.

In fact, heading to the kitchen now for some pre-emptive eating. Why wait for hunger?

Blessings to you here at Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for the patient, long-suffering readers of this blog.

 

 

Why Saying, “God won’t give you more than you can bear” Is Pretty Much The Worst Comfort Advice Ever

Job and Friends

Job and Comforters

A few days ago I posted a quick, scold-y note on Facebook after reading this heart-felt and transparent piece by ESPN writer/host Jason Wilde.

In it, Wilde opens up about battling darkness and depression after he and his wife lost a baby about halfway through the pregnancy. In it, without anger or bitterness, he mentions how profoundly unhelpful it was to have well-meaning Christians (he is not one) come up to him and try to help by saying things like, “God only gives you as much as you can handle.”

On Facebook, I linked to his essay and wrote:

Fellow Christians of planet earth: Stop trying to comfort the grieving by saying “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” It’s crappy theology. And it’s not comforting. Stop. It.

I meant that. And here’s why.

The advice (falsely) positions God  as the great cosmic dispenser of misery and suffering. What’s worse, it depicts Him as carefully monitoring just how much misery and suffering we each can handle without completely collapsing under the weight, to keep Himself from over-doing it.

It encourages us to imagine Him viewing our misery capacity as some sort of dashed line at the top of a measuring cup. Should our capacity to handle heartache increase a bit . . . well, then God is surely there with an eyedropper of pain ready to add more until we’re topped off, but never to the point that it rises above the line.

Prometheus, Handling Suffering

Prometheus, Handling Suffering

It’s hard to count how many ways this is wrong. But let me hit a few of the highlights.

1. It misidentifies the source of evil and suffering.

We live in a fallen creation filled with fallen humans operating with the gift/power of free will. The flooded home; the miscarried pregnancy; the child lost to the drunk driver, the housewife with the swollen black eye, the stolen iPhone, and the irritable bowel  . . . all of these and an endless list of other heartaches and headaches are a result of either the one (broken creation) or the other (broken people). And of course there’s God’s raging enemy, Satan, who is actively at work in and through both.

2. God is all about healing pain, not causing it. Restoring, not destroying.

Jesus told us that if we’ve seen Him we’ve seen the Father. (Jn. 14:9) He said that He only did the things He saw the Father doing. (Jn 5:19) Thus, it’s revealing that Jesus broke up every funeral he ever came across. Healed every person who requested it. Wherever he encountered human suffering, He relieved it.

He said the thief (Satan) comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But that He had come to provide abundant life. (Jn. 10:10)

 3. It distorts the concept of God’s sovereignty.

The sad young man from ESPN really believes God took the life of his baby. And every would-be comforter who offered up, “This was part of God’s plan,” or “He won’t give you more than you can handle,” seems to agree. “God did this to you,” they’re affirming. “But cheer up. It’s all for the best!”

One of the most common and disastrous theological concepts loose in the world is the child’s cartoon view of God’s sovereignty that suggests that God is getting exactly what He wants every second of every day in every place on planet Earth. Dear friend, He isn’t.

I wish I could link to a 4-part series of blog posts I did several years ago titled, “Tragedy: The Mother of All Bad Theology” because I addressed this topic in quite a bit of detail there. (Alas, it was lost, along with seven full years of blogging output, in a web site corruption.)

I call this a cartoon view of God’s sovereignty because it’s the way God is depicted in cartoons, Hollywood movies and sitcoms. That He is exercising direct causative or allow-ative control of everything, and can therefore justifiably be blamed for everything.

God gets blamed for a ton of horrific stuff He didn’t do. As some have heard me say on numerous occasions, Romans 8:28 does not say, “God causes all things.” It says God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called . . .”

That’s a very different proposition.

A lost, hurting, dying world is understandably reluctant to run to a God whom they believe to be the author of their deepest pain. But that’s simply not an accurate picture of who He is or why they’ve been hurt.

He is good. And He has gone to extraordinary lengths, at unspeakable personal cost, to meet us at the point of our suffering and offer healing and hope.

jesus on the cross

 

Perhaps the next time an unbeliever has his or her heart shattered by loss, a more comforting  (and more theologically sound) response might be:

“I’m so sorry that happened. How painful that must be. Let me walk through this with you. And please know that you can take that pain to a God who loves you. Because He’s not your problem. He’s your only hope for healing.”

On the Manifold Joys And Occasional Anguish of Being a Father

Dad Hands

About twenty years ago I saw a fascinating item in the magazine Scientific American.

It was a little blurb about a detailed study of the facial features of infants. According to the study, most babies go through a phase of looking like their fathers early in their development. This is the case even if they grow up to look nothing like their fathers, but rather become, say, the spitting image of their mothers.

Of course the researchers viewed this as a trick of evolution. The thought was that nature was giving a father extra assurance that the child is “his” early in the life of his offspring—to increase the chances that he will choose to take an active role in the protection and nurture of the child.

fatherlessYou don’t have to be a scientist to grasp the truth that children tend do a lot better in life with a Dad in the picture. (The studies showing the disastrous effects of fatherlessness in our culture are legion.) But what the scientists viewed as a clever artifact of evolution, seems to me to be evidence of design by a wise, benevolent Creator.

In other words, God created parenting to be a team sport—a team comprised of one man and one woman. You see, (spoiler alert), men and women are different, and are hard-wired to play different roles in the child-rearing process. We bring different strengths and skill sets to the table.

I once heard Pastor Robert Morris put it this way: A mother’s role is to nurture kids. A father’s role is to call them to their destinies. When a child scrapes her knee, Mom might say, “Oh sweetie, so sorry. Let’s get that cleaned up and bandaged.” Dad, on the other hand, says, “Aw, it’s a long way from your heart. You’re going to be okay. Get back out there and play.” (Football pat on the bottom optional.)

Both are good. Both are right. Both are necessary.

Other studies have observed that the way fathers tend to play with their kids differs markedly from play initiated by their mothers. It is the three-year-old’s father who is likely to be down on all fours pretending to be a bear; saying, “Rarrr, I’m going to eat you up!”; with the child at once laughing and screaming in giddy fear.

Both good. Right. Necessary.

However, psychologists are increasingly convinced that the rough, scary, father-kind of play serves a vital role in the development of children into future adults who can handle the stresses and pressures of life.

You’ve probably seen this graphical meme on Facebook:

child toss

This makes us laugh because it rings true to our experience as parents. Which brings me back to that study about fathers connecting to their infant children’s faces . . .

The Father-Heart Moment

It has been my privilege and responsibility in life to raise three daughters. With one married and all in their twenties, that blessed task is almost finished. On countless occasions I have said the words, “I love being a father to daughters.” And I have.

And early on with each one of my girls there was a . . . moment . . .

She is maybe five or six months old, which means she has stopped looking like a tiny alien, as all newborns do (let’s be honest), and now looks like a beautiful miniature human. She’s alert and responsive to you. She interacts. Best of all, you’ve figured out how to make her laugh.

Oh, how you love to make her laugh. (It’s like crack cocaine, that bubbling, baby belly laugh.)

So one day you’re hovering over the helpless little thing. And she’s looking at you. She makes a certain face. And suddenly you see yourself to a degree you’ve never perceived before. And maybe you also see your mother; or your brother; or that ancient, sepia-toned picture of your grandfather when he was a baby.

Then, without warning, your heart stops. Then it melts in your chest.

And in that moment you know that you must not ever let anything bad happen to her. That you would crawl naked across broken glass every day to provide for her. And that from this day forward it is your God-given mission to steward this wriggling, giggling lump of raw potential and help her become the best possible version of who He created her to be.

So you embrace that mission as if lives depended on it (and you know that, in fact, they do.) But soon three sobering realities confront you.

The first is that this world is a horribly twisted, fallen place. Depravity and violence seem to ooze from every crack in the crumbling edifice of our culture. This is the world you need to prepare her for. God in heaven, how is that even possible?

Secondly, you know all-too-painfully well how flawed and broken you are as a human being. You’re intimately acquainted with your every character flaw. With how very many mistakes and poor choices you’ve made up to that point in your life—and how many more you’re certain to make going forward. But now it’s not just your sorry rear on the line. Lord, she’s counting on me so I’m counting on you!

Thirdly, and this is the most startling revelation . . . you discover that she is broken too. That she was born neither a perfect angel nor a proverbial “blank slate” awaiting your brilliant writing. That she came out of the womb just as fallen and in need of divine redemption and restoration as you and every other son and daughter of Adam—only cuter. Dear Jesus, help me point her to you.

So in the face of these three bracing headwinds, you take a deep breath, lean in, and do the best you can.

3 girls

 

Oh, and you do all of this times three when God blesses you thricely. That’s when you discover that all three are utterly different in personality, temperament, gifting and heavenly calling. And therefore each needs different things from you. Each responds best to a different style of training, correction and love.

So you and your wife pray.

You pray to love them well; and discipline them wisely. You pray you’re striking the right balance between firm and soft—rigid and flexible.

You pray to know what’s a big deal and what’s a triviality you can let slide. When to say “yes” and be the hero; or say “no” and be the villain. When to embarrass them, and when to be cool.

Photobombing Dad

And most important of all . . . when to photo-bomb them.

You don’t always get it right.

But you pray for grace, And God supplies it.

You pray that His mercies will cover your mistakes. And you find those mercies new every morning.

Discovering What is Next

Those three are wonderful young adults now. As a living testament to the above-mentioned grace and mercy, they’ve avoided hard prison time and are productive, Jesus-loving members of society. The world is a better place because they’re in it.

Frankly, they’ve made it easy to be their father. They’ve made their mother and me look better and wiser than we really are. (I know many really great Christian couples who, for whatever reasons, have walked through much more arduous, heart-breaking parenting journeys than we ever faced.)

As I said, although I will always be a father, my season of father-ing is gradually coming to an end in a way. It seems a season of mentoring is ahead. God has already put several young men in my life who inexplicably want to know what I know about life and living. (Mentoring boys is an interesting counterpoint to 25 years of living in girl-world.)

Satisfied

Here on Father’s Day 2015, one thing is absolutely clear and true in my heart.

It’s said that every man’s greatest need is for honor. That respect is like oxygen to us. That the deepest thirst of the manly soul is for the clear water of admiration—particularly from his wife and children.

These blessings I have enjoyed in embarrassing abundance. Those three girls have always and only offered me these most precious of gifts—their honor, respect and admiration.

Move over George Bailey. It is me, David A. Holland, who is the richest man in town.

Us

 

 

 

The Surprisingly Sage Wisdom of Bill Withers

 

“But everything in life boils down to this riddle: Are you what you think you are?”—Bill Withers

Came across an amazing interview with 76-year-old music legend Bill Withers in the most recent issue of Garden & Gun. (What? You don’t know about Garden & Gun? It’s only the greatest magazine on earth.) Withers is about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

G-G Bill WithersReaders of a certain age will know Withers’ music well. He was huge in the ’70s and early ’80s. Ain’t No Sunshine still holds up after all these decades. DC Talk covered Lean on Me a few years ago.

What struck me about the interview was Withers’ humility and deep, plainspoken wisdom about life.

He uttered the quote above in response to a question about whether he knew early on that he had what it takes to succeed in the music business. I want to put “Are you what you think you are?” on a t-shirt.

Withers came to that business relatively late in life—after a nine-year stint in the navy in the ’60s. Then, after 15 years of success, at the height of his popularity, he walked away from the music industry and never looked back. Why?

Most of my dreams came true; and some of my nightmares, too. I had a pretty good run. And by then I had a family and some kids, so I went about trying to do a good job at that. Without even thinking about it, I just went ahead with my life.

In other words, he recognized that remaining a success in the music business and succeeding at being a husband and father were incompatible goals. So he chose family. Very cool.

On being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he’s grateful but not letting it go to his head . . .

I feel it’s healthier to look out at the world through a window rather than through a mirror. With a mirror, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you.

If you have a moment, do read the whole thing.

G-G