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I wish it could  be early morning all day long.  The quiet that I crave, the coffee I crave more, and the miracle of the world turning from dark into light.  It is my favorite time of the day; that sweet moment where God's power is so evident -- before the chaos and distractions of the day steamroll right over the earth, hiding from us His minute-by-minute glory.
I read in today's Gospel how the crowd of people asked Jesus for a sign so that they may see and believe in him. "Our ancestors ate manna in the desert ..." they tell Him. As if He had forgotten. As if He was doing magic tricks for some, but not for all. It reminds me of my children. How I can give them all the world only to hear back, "But you gave my sister that ..."  and it makes me wonder: "Have I not proven my love for you? Does it really come down to who gets what? Do you really not yet know who I am to you and that I would die for you?"
I always say that when it comes to my children, it is never enough. But maybe we are the same. Sure, Lord, the sun just came up right before my eyes, and I am able to breathe on my own, and I just walked into the kitchen on my two working legs and poured myself coffee with my able arms and hands, and the tree outside of my bedroom window bloomed beautiful paper-white flowers while I slept, and as I am able to think and read and pray and write, I do so to the tune of chirping birds, nature singing, the earth awakening ...
but ...
... forget the birds and the undeserved air in my lungs ... what about that one prayer, Lord? That very specific on-my-knees intention? What can you do about that? If you want me to believe and trust in you Lord, I need to see more. Where's my manna?
Oh, how we love to bargain with God.
Do for me, and I will believe.
Just this one thing, Lord, and you will have my heart.
I promise, God ... make this go away and  I will do whatever you ask of me.
My kids do this. "Mom, do you have any chores for me to do?" is only asked when they are looking to receive a reward in return. "If I take out the garbage, can I get that new video game?" And it always makes me sorrowful because I cannot believe that after all I have done for them and all that I will continue to do, why they cannot just give and do out of love for me? Why is there always a condition? Why are they so incapable of loving me to the point that giving to me is good enough, that there does not need to be any incentive other than love given and received? Real love, real relationships, real surrender leaves no room for bargaining.
And the thing is, God never bargains with me. He simply asks me to obey Him. To trust in Him. To follow Him. Not because he is on some power trip, but because He knows that not following Him leads to a starvation and misery that a life lived apart from Christ always results in. And it is not like He hasn't spelled things out for us. He clearly says we WILL have trouble in this world. We WILL face trials. Life WILL be hard. And you WILL at times feel alone. And you WILL be afraid. And sometimes things will not seem fair. You may feel like you have been abandoned and you may feel like your cross is too much and you may feel like He is not hearing your prayer ... but remember. Feelings are not always true.
Our God is not a God of holding out. Why do we treat Him as if He is?
Up until not long ago I was a big time bargainer with God. I will do this, then you do this, okay Lord? Promise me. I beg you. Look at me Lord. I am on my knees and I will do anything ... if you just. do. this. And then? Then ... I just stopped.  And I can not say how or why, but I do believe it involved a perfect recipe of over three years of asking, reading this book, and working my way through Lisa Brenninkmeyer's Fearless and Free Bible Study. And so I woke up a few weeks ago, in that beautiful moment of the earth still dark and the birds yet to sing, and I sat down with Jesus and told Him, "thank you."  And an amazing thing happens when you are able to be grateful in the midst of a storm. You recognize your manna.
And that was it. The bargaining ended when gratitude began.
Gratitude for what? Well, for my cross. For the suffering. For the trials and the hardships. Because by the grace of God, my mind was opened and my heart right along with it and I reached the point where I was either going to choose to continue to bargain with the God I nailed to the cross, or I was going to trust in the God that rose from the dead ... for ME, while still a sinner.  Because if we say we believe, if we say that we trust, than we have to  understand that the very thing we do not understand in our lives ... we may never understand this side of heaven. So I stopped trying to understand.
You see, I do believe in God. And I do believe that He always pulls the good out of the worst situations. This I have seen. This is not a feeling but truth. He works all things for good. ALL THINGS. Your present suffering is not the exception to this. And I swear, I may have to go back to TJ Maxx and buy the silver sparkly workout tank top I saw that says, "Life does not get easier, you get stronger." Because seriously? How true is that? Our suffering is never meaningless or wasted, and God uses everything we bring to Him and everything we patiently endure. Bargaining weakens us. Enduring strengthens us. I mean, even TJ Maxx knows that.
Are you bargaining with God? Are you feeling crushed by your cross and not wanting to carry it one more step? Are you using up your time and energy trying to understand why this is happening to you? To your child? To your spouse? If so, hang on, sweet friend. Hang on to Jesus. Hang on to hope. Remind yourself that feelings are not true and that He is a faithful Father who WILL pull out the good in this. Recall the times He has shown up ... write them down ... journal them all ... make a concrete action that pulls you of the bargaining state -- that place where we doubt and grip fear and behave as if our God has not done enough for us -- and then watch as you are  filled up with a peace that makes zero sense as you are released  into the arms of your I AM ENOUGH-FATHER.
I recently walked into my church when it was dark and empty. I marched up to the altar, got small on the ground, took out my phone, brought up an image of the one I pray for, and handed it to God. Slapped it right on the floor at the altar. I released myself from the feeling and belief that it was all up to me to be the savior.  The trial did not go away. The sorrow and anxiety is always right there if I need it. But that is the thing. I don't need it. If I am going to climb this mountain and follow in the footsteps of my Lord, what I need is unbelief. What I need is unwavering trust. What I need is to quit bargaining, to accept gratefully what I have been given and to do what the Lord asks, not so that I get a new video game, but simply because I love Him. Simply because Good Friday happened and then He rose from the dead and that is enough. Simply because I can recall the ways He has used my pain to bring Him glory. And truly because I know He works all things for good.
Not some things. Not a few things. ALL THINGS. Even your thing. It is for good.

Copyright 2018 Laura Mary Phelps