Are you aware of how taxing those “little” things we demand from others can be? Or have you realised how silly some of those demands actually are once they’re viewed with a little perspective?
The phrase “I don’t ask for very much, BUT…” became a running joke in our home over the last few days after a visiting friend shared an incident which sparked a whole lot of discussion around this topic. But while we now use this line regularly in various humorous settings, it creates awareness of our own (often unfair) expectations of others. Furthermore, it reminds us of both the small and the big things we should be thankful for. It reminds us that we should not take God’s providence and blessings for granted.
For our family, the particular way in which God provides during particular seasons, was really put under the magnifying glass during the month of April.
It was a particularly, let’s just say, “interesting” month for the Grobler household:
- I started to operate my new consulting business on April Fool’s day (what was I thinking?).
- I had to relinquish my trusty spare-room-home-office. We had to prepare the guest room for guests staying over through the month of April and May. Me moving out was a long time coming anyway, so the guests just nudged us on a little bit! But that meant that our uninsulated garage had to be cleared, remodelled, renovated and readied to serve as my new Headquarters of Operations – all whilst I was already working in the new “headquarters”! Balancing video calls, online workshops and distraction-free deep work sessions under these circumstances became quite tricksy – as Golllum would say. But my online team mates were great, at least I won the “how many different backgrounds can you have on video-call” competition.
- Working from the passenger seat of my car also helped with this competition. I had to conduct quite a few meetings from there in between doing school runs. Our kids go to different schools, and I play taxi-driver to one of them at some point during the day. Truth be told, I actually love my car-office. The seating is very comfortable, there is music on tap, and you can pick the view. As long as there is a Vida or Seattle nearby, everything is sorted.
- Month 1 was also filled with public holidays, a week of school holidays, and a quick week end trip to Mossel bay to tend to family matters. This translated into less time available to tend to the newly launched business.
- While all of the above happened, work commitments quickly escalated. As luck (“luck also goes by the initials “HD” in my world) would have it, I was scheduled to conduct four weekly public webinars during the month of April. The planning and preparation for these had to happen during the small hours of the mornings, as it was time consuming but could not be billed. I also had to use my daytime hours for my two new “puppies” – the two major projects I took on.
- These brand-new projects kicked off at the same time,
with challenging deliverables and fresh teams. They remind me of the dachshund puppies we got a few years back. We bought these puppies at the same time — a mistake we won’t make again! Anyway not without an older dog who can help teach them things like hierarchical pecking order and toilet manners. In much the same way, the two new projects were like the two worsies, needing much attention and not having found good rhythms yet.
This month felt like a thrilling downhill mountain bike ride when you don’t have time to stop and think too much. Instead, you have to decide and do. If you don’t decide and do, things get decided for you and perhaps even done for you. This may or may not actually turn out the way you planned for.
The Providence of God
But during times like these God’s hand of favour, providence and guidance are ever-present yet not always visible. Only in retrospect can you see the orchestrated events, chance encounters, providential conversations, or lightning-quick thoughts entering your mind at the right time which could not have been coincidental.
For me, this was certainly true during the past month. I might have been snowed under with launching the business, but I am blessed with enough work to earn a living and provide for my family.
I might have lost some billable hours due to public holidays, but we celebrated a Saviour who died for many and made salvation possible for billions. It provided an opportunity to spend time with great friends around a Seder table, using all our senses to remember Christ’s work on the cross.
There were guests in our house during this crazy time, yet we were blessed with unexpected help with driving the kids to school, great fellowship, deep conversations and reflective soul-searching.
It is still a bit cold in the garage but Ronel’s renovation creativity lighted up, and we love the process of shaping something new together. Of course it helps to helps to have friends like Sheldon who Candoo everything!
Perhaps you are in a rapid right now, and you are not consciously aware of God’s Guiding Hand in your life. Perhaps you feel that he’s far away, like the apostle Paul may have felt whilst being lost at sea (Acts 27). Or perhaps your feet are stumbling and your steps had nearly slipped because you are “envious of the arrogant and saw the prosperity of the wicked”. Maybe your “soul is embittered and pricked in your heart” (Psalm 73).
But Paul knew that God will
never leave you nor forsake you” — Hebrews 13:5
and Asaph could say after he gained some perspective that
It is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge” — Psalm 73:28.
Maybe you also thought you did not ask for very much, but you don’t feel that you actually received it. This could be so. But have you considered that you actually might have received a lot more, albeit in a different guise or in a format you don’t yet recognise as the graceful providence of God?
But there is something else which “I am not asking for very much…” reminds me of.
It reminds me of a disease.
This disease is ravishing South Africa. It is a disease that ruins lives, heightens blood pressure, gives an often unfair advantage to many but unfairly disadvantages countless more. It is a disease that medical science will never find a cure for, and you won’t find any anti-vac rallies on this one. Furthermore, it is a disease of the heart, but it is not a cardiological one. It is a disease of the mind, but it is not a neurological or psychological one. It is a disease that is rooted in a flawed human nature, and it affects all of us who are living in this country. Though it is not unique to South Africa, we are infected with a particularly bad strain of this disease. Some of us have suffered from it in the past. Others are infected as we speak. Some have been cured from it, realising the devastation it brings. Others are aware of it, but are still drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
“I do not ask for very much, BUT…” is connected to this disease in several ways. People who have this disease, often starts sentences with words like “I did not ask for much…”.
A more advanced form of this disease will make people say things like “We demand!” or “we want!” or “we deserve!”.
Perhaps a more refined strain of the disease will make people explain that “No, no no, all I want is….”. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes with insight how many people are enslaved by this kind of gluttony — not of excesses but rather of delicacy. Uncle Screwtape, speaking of the main character’s mother in the story, tells his nephew Wormwood:
…what do quantities (of excess) matter, provided that we can use the human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? … she is a positive terror to hostesses and servants.
We can effortlessly generalise “belly and palet” to a broader “self-righteous attitudes” and “hostesses and servers” to “husbands/wives/children/colleagues”.
Jeremiah reminds us that
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?” — Jeremiah 17:9
I am sure you have guessed it by now. This disease is not Covid or Cancer, and it goes by many names. One of the names is Entitlement, and it is deadly. It can curiously be painted in a favourable light by those who carry it. It is easy to defend it using the excuse of circumstances past and present. Not only that, but it offends our wives or husbands, it hurts our sons and daughters. It damages our work relationships — there we’re supposed to be salt and light. It can make us disrespect those who have been appointed over us. We can even use it to turn ourselves into martyrs, and thereby dishonouring those who really carries that title.
And I, disappointingly, realise every so often that I still carry that disease in my heart, even though I hate it so much.
The Apostle Paul writes about this phenomena first hand in Romans 7:14-21 – he too found that our earthly bodies are not easily brought under control by our spirits.
As Spurgeon, writing in the 1800s refreshingly untainted by a later era of “politically correctness” and seeker-over-sensitivity, recently reminded me of my undeserving state before The Almighty:
“…you are a wretch most undeserving and hell-deserving. Apart from sovereign grace your case is hopeless” — Charles Spurgeon, Praying Successfully, p. 136.
How will it end?
But I am reminded of the Apostle Paul who tells me that if I walk in the Spirit, I will then not gratify the desires of the flesh. And Entitlement is certainly one of these. In Galatians 5:20 it is tucked away under code words like enmity, strife, division, envy, jealousy, dissensions, and fits of anger.
In cases like these, too, I am thankful that he himself is patient with us (2 Peter 3:9), finishes the good works he starts within us (Philippians 1:6), and gives us everything we need in his Word for a full life in him (2 Timothy 3:16). I am grateful that there is a loving God who sent his Spirit into this world to help is followers with patience, kindness, gentleness and self control (Gal 5:22-23)
In another of Lewis’ books, The Great Divorce, he wrote that there are only two kinds of people in this world. Those who say to God “your will be done”. And those to whom God will say “now your will be done”.
Which one do you belong to?