First, a story:
Kajiah’s island had no dirt. Water? Sunshine? People? Yes. But no dirt. And, subsequently, no plants, no food chain, and few insects or animals. You may not want to live there, but Kajiah loved it. An elaborate economy formed around her community. In general, everyone knew them as an island that prospered with fullness and contentment.
Kajiah fancied the shipyard and port. Fully participating in the bustle, she reveled in scents of fresh food coming each day, loading the materials her family made, speaking to travelers about past journeys, and bartering for little treats. Flowers, however, were rare and random. Above all, Kajiah sought out these colorful delicate plants. Elusive and intriguing, soft petals and firm stems, one yellow and another pink; each time a bundle came it brought different explosions of color and content. “Is there an endless supply of unique blossoms?” she wondered.
“Kajiah! Wait!” Cini called out after the shadow running along the ridge, grasping several packets with strength. Cini moved into Kajiah’s community a few years back, bringing new methods for old tricks and earning admiration. He held out the packets as she approached him, clear pictures of flowers on the front. Eyes obsessing over the pictures, Cini’s story of how he found them in the port washed in and out of her ears, never making it over the edge into her brain. Suddenly, she no longer heard him talking and started to profusely thank him while ensuring she would treasure them. Taking them from his hands, she felt small beads inside. Though puzzled, she needed to get home. One last smile to convey her thanks and she dashed away. A rattling noise came from the packets while she traveled reminding her to ask about the small beads next time she encountered Cini.
A few weeks passed before Cini saw Kajiah at the port. Predictably, he found her looking at a bouquet marked for delivery on the next island over.
“Cini, I want just one flower.”
“I promise you’ll have more than just one.”
“So expensive for a short enjoyment.”
“I think this could help with that.” Cini offered a book with Gardening written across the front. “It explains how to grow flowers. Pictures included!” Kajiah reached out to take the book and excitement surged from her heart to her hands. Feeling as if her entire life has changed, she briefly paged through the chapters, eyes captivated by pictures.
“I’ll read the whole thing tonight!” she promised.
“It might be hard to read it all in one sitting, but I don’t doubt you,” Cini replied.
At home, Kajiah compared the packets to the book, combing through pictures, trying to determine a favorite. Declaring to her family that she had found the one flower she wanted, she plopped the book on the table and explained her rationale as if defending a thesis.
Kajiah measured time by pictures of flowers in her book. Moreover, she never got around to actually reading any words; she figured if Cini promised her more than one flower, they would arrive at the port in a tight bundle at the stems and gracefulness cascading over the top. She marked pictures of flowers she especially enjoyed, secretly hoping that Cini would include these blooms in the bouquet he would buy for her. However, a small niche in her heart hoped that Cini would bring flowers that her book didn’t even possess: flourishing silky leaves in hues and shades all together new. Running her fingers across the short bookmarks she embedded in the spine, Kajiah briefly thought about the sections of the book left to read. Significant portions of the manual remained without a bookmark because they only held words or seemingly boring diagrams. Each day rolling past mounted a greater anticipation of Cini’s flowers. As expectations developed, patience waned.
Cini’s figure whistled past the window and Kajiah surmised this day he would walk her down to the port and lead her to vase holding her desire.
“Kajiah! Come!” Cini exclaimed with an arm beckoning his way. Speculation confirmed Kajiah would receive flowers today! Bolting out the door to meet Cini, Kajiah could barely keep up with his strides. At first, following the usual path to the port, Cini unexpectedly curved left through rock formations and halted at a opening with wooden terraces filled with dirt. A path of stones winded through the levels, ending at a cistern. Cini explained he designed the path to catch rainwater and shared details of how he brought all this from another island. Again, his words washed in and out of Kajiah’s ears, although this time her blustering brain bellowed out curses and criticism. Words packed full of denunciation and objections made clear Kajiah’s disappointment. She explicitly stated her expectation of flowers, he promised flowers, not dirt. Kajiah wildly threw the soil while she condescendingly explained it did not possess the beauty of blossoms. One last stone thrown into the cistern, a handful of dirt onto the ground, and Kajiah exited.
Each step of the walk home implanted a stronger outrage in her heart. One step brought enmity, another pounded in outrage, her temper produced fury, which spun into violence. Upon reaching home, they all amalgamated into pride, which sprouted a plan of revenge. Taking the needed tools, belongings, her book, and the packets, she returned to the terraces. She dismantled everything, took the wood and crafted a raft and paddle. Originally, she threw the book and packets on top of the soil pile, but looking at it did not satisfy. Revenge drew up one corner of her mouth and delight brought the other into a full smirk while she buried the book and packets with pictures of flowers on them into the dirt to ruin Cini’s gifts.
Finally satiated, Kajiah gathered her raft and belongings and advanced to the port. Accordingly, she set her raft in the water, tied down her assets and proceeded onward to the next island, in search of flowers.”
This story reminds me of humans. From the Israelites and their bumbling walk to the Promised Land only to find an unexpected civilization occupying the land, to the individuals in Jesus’ time requesting food like manna from heaven not expecting Jesus to reply, “I am the bread of the life that came down from heaven.” These unmet expectations turn into grumbling which often yields frustrations, why is this pattern so frequent in humanity?
At times we read the bible with lenses of our wants and expectations, easily finding small affirmations (at times out of context) and magnifying them in our brains, calling it a sign. But we have to be careful. As one of my favorite Beautiful Eulogy songs, Signs and Symbols, says,
“But don’t you find it interesting, how most of the time your self-interpreting seems to coincide with what’s deep inside your heart’s desires, seems rather convenient, doesn’t it? I’m not saying God can’t do it, not saying God won’t do it, that might very well be the case. I’m simply making an observation of how much weight you place on it. What seems to be at stake and how much of your faith is actually banking on it.”
How much of our faith is actually banking on God giving us our bouquet of flowers in a way we expect? What if instead we are given seeds, a manual, and some dirt? Would we even recognize the opportunity or would we turn away, too fixated on our own dreams?
Romans 12:1 “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
As D.L. Moody said, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” But it’s hard to know when we’re off the altar. Discerning when we’ve placed our own expectations on God is challenging and difficult to admit. I have not mastered perceiving when I fall into this trap, but I do know that God gives wisdom to those who ask.
This January I will travel back to Swaziland. Often when we travel abroad or do something we feel God has called us too we set huge human expectations. We think we’re on the altar because we make a sacrifice for God, but is it a sacrifice if we expect God to astonish us on our terms? That sounds more akin to a purchase. I want to clarify that I very purposefully said human expectations earlier because God is always giving us astonishing grace and weaving love in ways we do not acknowledge. God’s movements and plans don’t require our recognition in order to exist. In John 6 Jesus multiplied the bread for the five thousand; the next day, they ask for sign so they can believe in Him. Humanity has not come far from that moment. Looking back, we see the feeding of the five thousand as a miracle and the fact they got hear, touch, and interact with Jesus on Earth is pretty neat. But, the crowd on that day saw it as ordinary enough to ask for a sign. For some reason, I doubt if we stood in the crowd we would think much different. I might get all the way to Swaziland and say,
“Something must be wrong. It’s boring when my life looks more like the book of Ruth than Exodus. I’ve never seen the parting of an ocean, or a cloud by day or pillar by night. Just a normal everyday working of life.” (Signs and Symbols, Beautiful Eulogy).
Often we want God to show us the dazzle of Exodus. But 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that without love, we gain nothing. Prophetic powers, understanding mysteries, removing mountains, giving everything away means nothing without love. The slow process of planting seeds, weeding gardens, and then waiting, displays love. Kajiah wanted flowers immediately. We want to see the produce of our labor immediately. If you were to join me on the January trip, you might see a life completely change in an instant, but, you also might see typical life where you love by jumping rope and singing. The miracle is Christ’s love, and that is never ordinary.