What if you told God you would do anything – and He took you up on it?
That’s the question Jennie Allen asks in her book Anything: The Prayer that Unlocked my God and my Soul.
I don’t do many book reviews on my blog. I love to read, but I’m sort of finicky. I want to read what I want to read when I want to read it. So when I get an email from a publicist or a publishing company asking me to review a book, I usually say no. This time I said yes. I don’t know why, but I suspect God was moving in me and it was more His decision than mine.
Jennie Allen’s words hooked me from the start. I identified with her writing, her struggle with knowing God and surrendering to His will, and her quest to do anything. Once I started, I couldn’t stop reading. Anytime I had a minute, I grabbed the book and devoured chapter after chapter, shaking my head and saying, “That’s right! I believe that too.”
This is part book review and part testimony, a different kind of post than I’ve probably ever written. It’s longer too. I may as well warn you now. You might need to read it in more than one sitting, but I’m going to ask you to please read it. Maybe you’ll see yourself and your own relationship with God reflected in Jeannie’s words. I did.
Jennie begins her book by explaining her feelings about God. All the words in blue are Jennie’s. Unfortunately all the other words are mine.
Honestly, I felt neutral about God. When you grow up with the stories and songs and lessons, you accept everything; you aren’t trying to explain God if you grew up hearing about him since birth, like Santa Claus. I knew what I thought I needed to know. I didn’t feel much, for the most part, when watching people talk about him. I don’t remember it feeling very real. In fact, I remember God feeling a little plastic.
I love her honesty. God was nothing more to her than a plastic figurine, much like the Santa we put out at Christmas. She goes on to describe the time when God became real to her.
But that night I saw him. I saw my sin and how it put him there [on the cross]. I saw the cost. I saw his mercy, and my heart moved. What Christ did on a cross – he bought me; he died so I wouldn’t. My plastic god broke, and a new, unsettling God rushed in. I felt him.
There comes a time in all our lives when God has to become more than just a story, more than someone we thank for the food, more than our parent’s God. He must become real to us or we have nothing.
Because of training and ministry and God’s leading, Zac and I moved, and moved some more. And because of all of these moves, I longed to settle again…Curtains hanging in a window became a symbol of stability for me. It wasn’t the actual curtains; it was a deeper desire to belong somewhere, for my family to dig roots.
I could have written this paragraph myself. I married an electrician, not a pastor. I said, “I do” and planned on staying in one place for the rest of my life. That place was Limerick, Maine. I had a broken down old house that I poured my hopes and dreams into, a chicken coup filled with feathery, pecking creatures I never thought I would like, much less raise, and a bunch of friends who became family.
I had just given birth to my daughter, our second child, when my husband pulled the car into a grocery store parking lot one night after church and told me God was calling him to be a pastor. I didn’t want that. I wanted to add rooms and babies to my old house, and maybe even a white picket fence that I’d spend the next fifty years painting.
I wanted my life to be mine, and I wanted to live it for myself. Oh, don’t misunderstand; I did good things by the plenty. I worked in the church nursery and taught a children’s Sunday School class. I made food for traveling missionaries and even let them stay in my house sometimes. I just wanted to be the one who fed the missionary; I didn’t want to actually be the missionary, unless by missionary you mean the one who invites her neighbors to church.
I wanted to do God’s will on my terms.
I was afraid. I was afraid I’d have the life I’m now living. Worse, I was afraid God would send us to a third world country. I guess I’m still afraid of that, but my life is pretty good, not always easy, but good. I’ve seen God work in ways I never would have thought possible, and because I saw His faithfulness, I’ve learned to trust. That learning is ongoing, because let’s face it, I can trust Him with my life, my children, and my future one day and freak out over trusting Him with my refrigerator the next. I think a big part of faith is remembering and deciding – remember what God did in the past and what He’s promised to do in the future, and then deciding to trust Him no matter what common sense or your queasy stomach tells you.
What would be the very worst thing that God may allow you to suffer? We all would say his character is loving and good, but do we really trust that he won’t get crazy and dish out the same life he gave Job?
America (I can’t speak for the rest of the world) is held captive by fear. Anxiety paralyzes intelligent and talented people every single day. We make decisions, usually bad ones, based on fear. We allow fear to control our lives and steal our joy. We have no peace. We are a slave to the “what if’s” of this world. We are made useless by something that is not real, something fictional that may or may not ever happen to us or to those we love. I think (and this is only my opinion) that fear is one of the main things Satan uses to make Christians useless, especially Christian women.
So you know how I know this? It’s because I struggle with it every single day and so do most of my friends. I am only recently learning to face my fear and look at it in the light of God’s word, in the light of truth.
The ironic thing about believing in God and supernatural things is that the invisible stuff is actually the most trustworthy, the most stable. So the concrete things we can see and touch, they become the wind, they become the things we try to catch, and over and over, as they pass through our fingers and souls, keeping us empty.
Sometimes in the middle of our very worst times, the times we wrestle with God, our beliefs, and the very core of our faith, we realize that God hasn’t forsaken us. We understand in a whole new way that God is truly good. He is comforter, healer, peace-giver, lover, transformer, Savior, and friend.
No matter what happens, I am loved by a holy God full of grace.
We love our earth. we love our people. We love our stuff. We love our schedules. We love our short lives here. And God is saying, Look up. This is going fast. Your life here is barely a breath. There is more, way more.
We are so shortsighted. I am so shortsighted. All I can see is the now, and I want to fix everything about the now.
Somehow I thought most of my life following God was not supposed to be too costly. Following God is flat costly. It always has been. It doesn’t make sense to us, but since this life, these few years, are not the climax from Gods perspective, he’s okay throwing a little wrench into the short plans we have to be normal here.
So many times I felt like the world was caving in around me and it’s because I couldn’t see the big picture. I couldn’t see God past my circumstances.
Somewhere along the way, even with grace sung all around me, God had become morality to me. God had become the American dream. God had become a white Republican, and he wanted me to have a nice home, and a nice family with a fence to keep us all safe.
We said that! Not those exact words, because we’re not that articulate, but oh so very close.
It was a date night. We sat in the parking lot of The Red Lobster and wondered if we got it all wrong. Somehow in our imaginations we got the idea that a nice house, a white picket fence, two decent (but not too pretentious) cars in the driveway, a white clapboard church if you’re in the North and a red brick church if you’re in the South is Godly, but what if it’s not? What if that was never, ever God’s plan? What if we’re confusing God’s will with the American Dream?
Money and a good latte protect us from a lot of things. It is too easy in this country for blessings to become rights, for stuff and money to become what calls the shots in our lives. And before we know it, God’s gifts have replaced God himself.
About seven years ago we lost everything material that we thought was so important to us. It was stuff we thought defined us, help to make us who we were. It wasn’t fancy or expensive, but it was ours. It was memories and life built day by day, but then it was gone. It wasn’t taken from us. We let it all go and willingly.
It’s a long story, but I got really sick and we ended up getting rid of almost everything, except for the absolute essentials. I cried when boxes of my books were brought to the curb. I sat right down on the stoop of our rented house that wore the scars of a recent hurricane, and I cried over stuff. Stuff I loved way too much. It’s kind of funny now. We laugh about it, but back then, it wasn’t funny. I was mourning my material world.
The irony is once it was all gone, I felt so free, more free than I ever had in my life. I learned one of the most important lessons of my entire life. I learned that everything I have is just stuff. Some stuff is more treasured than other stuff, but I don’t really need it, not any of it.
I was certainly not willing to do anything then, but I can say a lot died for me. It was another step in letting go – a step in dying to my picture of normal, my picture of a perfect nursery and a perfect life. Little deaths always feel like big deaths until you let go. After you let go you wonder, what was the big deal?
Once when I was a teenager, I told God I would do anything. I think I really meant it then, but I didn’t understand what that anything might include. It’s so much more than a stealth covert mission. It’s not a one time deal. It’s not a portion of my life. Doing anything God wants IS my life.
anything, part two – coming soon.
Feel free to share your story in the comments.