I had a great time at the men’s retreat and will have lots of fun memories from it. New relationships being formed on our walk to Lake Michigan. An epic game of Fill-or-Bust that will go down in the history books (still not sure how Ted won that). And who knew that we had so many good cooks?
But the part that might stick with me the most is a simple chart that Bob Allums (with his infectiously goofy laugh) drew for us. Tracing a line from left to right that initially curved upward, he spoke of how there are times that we feel challenged, inspired to accomplish something important. Maybe it’s to become a better parent, to grow in our relationship with God, to honor Christ in our work. Initially, as the line on the chart suggests, our energy and confidence are fairly high.
But then over time we find ourselves becoming frustrated. We experience failure and discover inadequacies in ourselves that we never saw before. We realize that our goal is much more difficult than we first believed. If the line from left to right represents our confidence, it now slopes steeply downward—we’ve gone from the top of a mountain to the deepest part in the valley, far less hopeful or motivated than even when we began. We realize we’re completely in over our heads, and we despair. We’re tempted to give up.
Bob pointed out that it is at this point, right in the trough, that we’re actually most ready to live out the gospel. Because when we come to be aware of our inadequacy, we can do something really simple, yet really important. We can ask God to help us. We can live into the reality that we are God’s children and that he actually loves to have us ask him--and he loves to give us good things.
Now we’re often slow to ask God for what we desire. We think it’s selfish for us to ask these things, and we also feel like we should be able to handle our problems on our own. But Christian maturity is about growing in our readiness to say, “I can’t do this,” and actually believing that God cares to hear us ask him.
Because when we ask God, things really do change. We bring God into our story. We open ourselves up to seeing what God will do. Sometimes that means we learn to wait in the midst of the desert as we experience the gap between what we are hoping for and what we actually are experiencing. We learn, like the Psalmists, to lament. And sometimes it means being filled with joy as we tangibly experience God’s generous love, and our heart is filled with songs of gratitude. But either way our lives become more filled with God, and we learn what it means that he is our Father.
Jesus reminds us of what we are so slow to believe: “If you, then, though you are sinful, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”