A few weeks ago I was wandering around the house engaged in some task (which I can’t recall now), when I had that unsettling, terrifying feeling…the 3-year-old is not making any noise! Upon reflection I’ve realized that I tend to unconsciously keep track of him by the distant sounds of “Vroom, vroom” or other various forms of screeching, laughing, and/or crying. But silence. Silence means that he is into something he shouldn’t be! He’s quiet when he is in the bathroom putting his toothbrush in the toilet bowl or squeezing all of the toothpaste into the sink while running the faucet water perpetually. Silence with a toddler screams trouble.
So, the hunt began. I finally found him in the pantry. Now, the pantry is right off of the kitchen. The pantry has some high shelves with canned goods, snacks, and other food as well as a washer and dryer. When I opened the pantry door the light was off–it was pitch black (I mean like can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face kind of darkness). With the opening door, light from the kitchen entered the darkness. There was Ollie, sitting in a laundry basket of clothes, in the dark, with a mason jar of chocolate chips in his lap. He looked up as the light hit his face and happily reached his hand in the jar for another mouthful.
“Oh, there you are buddy! Let’s put those away now, so we don’t spoil dinner, okay?”
The mason jar was about 1/4 of the way still full. I have no clue how many chocolate chips were in the jar initially, but I imagine he got a fair amount in him before I found him. I picked him up. The faint evidence of chocolate around his lips and the strong, sweet smell of chocolate on his breadth was really quite cute. I set him down to play. He scurried off. When he was out of site I went back into the pantry and put the jar away on a higher shelf.
About an hour later I went into the pantry to grab something and much to my surprise the mason jar was back on the lower shelf…open…and totally empty. Ollie had done it. He had sneaked back into the pantry and got those chocolate chips! All of this got me thinking. Why didn’t he just come up to me and ask me for some chocolate chips? Why did he hide in secret in a dark pantry for a sweet treat? Of course I would give him some chocolate chips, but perhaps he was afraid that I would be stingy–that I wouldn’t want him to have that happiness? Perhaps he didn’t trust that I wanted what was truly best for him? Even if I only gave him a few chocolate chips in the moment, it seems likely that he might not have been able to appreciate that it was because I wanted him to have room for his dinner, so that he might eat well and be a healthy boy.
As I reflect back on the incident, I realize that I do the same thing with God. I (sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously) think that God is going to be stingy or that He doesn’t really know what is best for me. I try to hide away in secret and hold on to little things that I think I need or want to make me happy.
“And the Lord said, ‘Where were you when I called?’ And Matt responded, ‘In a dark pantry eating chocolate chips. I was afraid you would take this happiness away from me so I hid. And, I was ashamed.”
I’ve heard a similar kind of story to the one I experienced with Ollie. I don’t know how true they are, but apparently some indigenous peoples will hunt for monkeys by hollowing out a gourd, attaching a rope to the gourd and staking it to the ground. Some treat is placed inside the gourd. Here’s the catch. The hole in the gourd is big enough for a monkey to place its open paw into the gourd, but not large enough for the monkey to withdraw its closed paw. Apparently, monkeys will reach into the gourd and refuse to let go of the little treat inside. Imagine that. If only they would open their clenched paw they would be able to receive all the joys and delights of freely roaming the forest. Instead that hold on to that silly little treat until the hunter returns and finishes the job.
I do this. I clench little delights and pleasures in lieu of opening my hands and receiving what God has in store for me. Where does this come from? For me it comes from the fear that maybe God will be stingy. Maybe God will give me something even less valuable and enjoyable that this insignificant, fleeting little pleasure that I am holding on to so tightly. So, I cling–I clench my fist around the little thing that I think I need or want for a little bit of happiness. As Chris West often notes we often settle for eating out of the dumpster, because eating trash is better than not eating at all. But, we don’t know the beautiful banquet that God has prepared for us–we don’t trust that He has prepared this beautiful, fulfilling meal for us. We don’t believe that He alone is what can satisfy and satiate our hearts. So, we lock ourselves in our dark little pantries and try to stuff ourselves with little things that we think will make us happy. This is certainly not to say that we will get everything we desire when we give everything to the Lord, but we will get everything that we need. He will give us things (e.g. insight, wisdom, peace, virtue, and love) that are truly more lasting and valuable than those things that we often believe will make us happy.
After all, why settle for chocolate chips when Dad is making a chocolate cake covered with chocolate chips.
Perhaps in these final days of Lent we can identify those people, ideas, behaviors, desires, and possessions that we are holding on to so tightly that the Lord can’t fill us with all the gifts that He desires to give us (because our hands are clenched so tightly rather than being open and receptive). Maybe we can make an act of trust and give it all to the Lord, asking Him to vanquish with His Love our fear that He might be stingy. Today, let us take our clenched fists and open them to Christ on the Cross. Our God is not stingy. He has given us Himself and He has given Himself to the last. No, He is not stingy. He is lavish and generous, but sometimes I forget to sit quietly in front of the Cross to be reminded of this. Perhaps this Good Friday we can take our fear to Jesus on the Cross and allow it to be crucified with Him, so that it might be transformed into faith in His love for us and His desire for our deepest happiness.