I just returned from the Los Angeles area where I had occasion to pick up a magazine called Los Angeles Confidential. The headlines on the front of this magazine promised that within its covers I would discover the most wanted item by Los Angeles trendsetters. I quickly flipped through pages of pictures of celebrities and advertisements to find the promised reveal. In the center of the page was a picture of a purse. Yes, a purse. It wasn’t even a big purse. Beneath the bright and glossy photograph were the words, “Cold-Blooded Beauty”, and in the corner of the page in small print were the details: Paris-Londres Collection alligator clutch by Chanel ($39,450).
In the midst of hearing news of a pending economic catastrophe, the thought of buying a purse that costs almost $40,000 seems almost appropriate. Maybe it is the frantic pursuit to buy our peace and significance that has gotten us into this culture of credit, consumerism, and collapse. At some level we know there’s not enough out there to fill our emptiness, and at another level we don’t know what else to do but to head to the mall and try to find something . . . .
I doubt that any of us will be buying the most wanted item in Los Angeles, but it made me think about what I want. What do you want? No, what do you really want? I suspect that if our “most wanted” was revealed in the pages of a magazine, it would be something less material, less gaudy, less embarrassing than an alligator clutch. We want harmonious, rich times with family and friends, meaningful work that allows us to share our gifts and God’s story with others, and a spiritual life that gives us peace and purpose. Oh, we may also want a secure retirement fund, a spouse that “gets” us, children that are a blessing, and friends who share life with us. Regardless of what it is that you really want — if its picture was displayed for all the world to see, I doubt that any would look at it like I looked at that purse, and shudder, “That’s ridiculous!”
And that’s the problem. We want good things, things that make sense to us, things that it seems like God would certainly want to deliver. One of the questions I am asked most and that I have pondered often is, “Why doesn’t God give us what we want?” When I hear about a thirteen-year-old who was sexually assaulted by her best friend’s father or of a marriage of thirty years disintegrating in the flames of infidelity, I have thought: “If I were God, I would keep that from happening.” When I learn of a friend who is fighting cancer in the midst of mothering three teenagers or of a man in mid-life who is fired without cause and cannot find another job, I have wondered, “God, what are you doing?” And certainly when I see on the television screen families in Haiti who are eating mudpies and young girls in Thailand who are forced into prostitution I know, “If I were God, I would do a better job.”
Two years ago I spoke to a group of women in Alabama. It was actually a cake buffet. I think that they only have those in the South! It was one of the most delightful dessert indulgences that I’ve ever experienced. One dear woman greeted me with a wonderful Southern accent, “Oh, honey” (only Southerners call women in their mid-40′s “honey”), ”we just loved your book, Bravehearts. We can’t wait to hear more about your life.”
I responded, “Well, a lot of things have changed in my life since I wrote that book.” I was thinking of many of the things I’ve wanted most that have broken into a million pieces — a broken family, broken dreams, broken relationships. The woman responded full of glee, “Well, I’m sure everything has happened for the better!”
It took me a while to know that the Southern woman was right. Things have changed — for the better, even though I haven’t gotten what I thought I wanted most. I do know more about grace, mercy, compassion, truth, surrender, hope, and love than I ever dreamed of knowing. So many times in my life I was sure I knew what I wanted and felt confident in my desires because I wanted good things — not expensive purses — but things that God would certainly want me to have. I am discovering that I don’t have a clue about what I really want, and that God remains steadfast in His commitment to use my longings to bring me to what I most deeply want — Him. That means knowing Jesus — the One whose names are Grace, Mercy, Compassion, Truth, Surrender, Hope, and Love. I admit at times that has made me mad, because I really just wanted my life to work. For me it takes daily surrender to believe that if I had all the wisdom and power of God and could truly see the scope of my entire life, I would choose exactly the path that I am on — because the beginning, ending, and middle of that path is Jesus.
I don’t always want Him most, but I do find peace and significance in knowing that when God reveals His most wanted, it includes me!
“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, and you are mine. You are precious in my eyes, because you are honored and I love you . . . . The mountains may depart, the hills be shaken, but my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be broken.” The Prophet Isaiah