We drove slowly up the tree-lined driveway. The old farmhouse greeted us solemnly as we parked under old maples and stately pine. a few stout tulips bloomed despite several years of neglect. Ben spun wheelies with his chair on the cobblestones by the front door as the older boys scattered to explore the yard. They came back with reports of tadpoles in the backyard pond. The two year old handed me a fistful of giant dandelions – thriving in the abandoned garden bed.
I was bewitched.
It was then our friend the realtor drove up and gave us the bad news. Someone had already signed a contract. The house wasn’t for sale – as of that exact moment.
It had felt like a dream too good to be true. I guess it was.
She still let us in to see the house. It was empty, full only of peeling paint and unspoken memories. The only furniture was an old piano in a back room. Shiloh found it and tickled out a few off-key chords as the others raced through the echoey house with abandon that seemed appropriate to the setting. I imagined a bookshelf here, a bunk bed there, bean bag chairs in a cozy corner, crayon pictures hung on the walls. I realized it might finally be time to consider adoption because there were enough bedrooms to house a larger army – or even a pink bedroom! I imagined my son’s wheelchair spinning smooth across the hardwood floors, a fire crackling in the old stone fireplace, the smell of cookies wafting from the welcoming kitchen. I realized every stroller and bike and even huge family vehicles would fit in the ample three car garage. I imagined snowy days seeing my oldest with a book, his lanky frame curled onto a window seat. I saw homeschool supplies piled on a big plank table; a big soup pot simmering on the range. I imagined parties in a house that could hold a crowd of boys – and their friends. I could see Bible studies around the wood stove, music spilling from that room with the piano. I envisioned a long rope swing hanging from high in the barn, a fire pit in the backyard for get togethers with marshmallow-sticky fingers. It would have been a gathering place. It could have been a home.
But God said no.
He does that sometimes. It hurts in the moment, the dream-shattering, like glass splintering into a thousand pieces. Shards of what was hope get under your skin. It stings to draw them out. Maybe I shed a few tears.
I have been praying daily for a new house for a year. Well, much longer really, but I committed to asking daily exactly one year ago – to the day – that I found that house for sale. I thought that would magically mean it was the one.
God says to set landmarks (Jeremiah 31:21). When we look back we realize how far He has taken us. I was hoping this landmark meant the end of our house search. Apparently He wants me to keep praying. So I painstakingly glued the shards of hope back together and tried to place it safely where it belongs. In Him. Not in a house. I love old houses. But old houses crumble eventually.
Being a Christian sometimes gets reflected clearly in being a mom. There are so many days filled with NO.
“No, you can’t have a cookie.”
“Don’t lick your brother.”
“You can’t go outside till you finish your math.”
“Don’t shoot the bird,” I said to the boy pointing a nerf gun at a friend’s pet parakeet last week.
“No dancing on the table.”
“Take off his underwear and get your own!”
“Do not run away from me in the parking lot!”
“No you can’t go outside without pants.”
“No, you can’t have a puppy.”
“No more tv time.”
“You should not eat the bug.”
“That is not chocolate.”
“Don’t eat applesauce with your toes.”
“Dandelions are not weapons.”
“Stop licking the bug spray.”
“Don’t hit him!”
“Don’t say that!”
A friend in the midst of single parenting her three young daughters said it once. “There is so much NO.” It stuck with me. I feel like a mean mom some days. I want to say YES to something. Anything. But they want so much that is wrong, so much that would hurt them or somebody else, so much that is detrimental or even dangerous. And I have to say NO. Again.
I realize I am often the same way with God. I ask for so much that would be bad for me, then pout when God says NO. I believe He has my best interests in His heart, I know He’s the one who sees the future, I realize He wants better for me than I can even comprehend. But I don’t see it that way in the moment. Not that I would ever be dumb enough to disagree with the Creator of the universe…
What worries me is the fact that sometimes God says YES when we should accept NO. He did it when Israel wanted a king like the other nations (I Samuel 8:6-7). He warned them it wasn’t good for them, He told them they were rejecting Him by asking for a human leader. But He finally gave them a king because they asked for it. They rejoiced in the moment, but ultimately it made them miserable – and led to their national ruin.
I fear that. What if God said YES to my petulant whining for a big old farmhouse when I really need a smaller boring one? I admit I’ve done it as a mother. I’ve wrecked dinner with ice cream before. I’ve let them overdose on Curious George or Man vs. Wild episodes when they should have been running off their God-ordained boy-sized energy outside. I’ve let them stay up too late. I’ve cleaned the bathroom when it was their turn. Don’t go calling Child Protection on me. We all bear the consequences of the overdose on sugar, the lack of sleep, the entitlement attitude, the pent up energy. I know better, but sometimes I still allow it. I’m lazy. I’m human. I’m selfish and don’t want to argue again. I don’t like to say no.
While God doesn’t do wrong, I don’t think He likes to say no to His children either. So sometimes He says yes to something He knows will hurt us. Hopefully we come out the other side just a bit bruised, but also a bit wiser. And more humble.
So I try to pray differently. I ask for the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). But I ask not that He give me what I want – I ask that He put the right wants in my heart. He loves to give. He gave me the breath in my lungs, each beat of my heart, the food on my table, the sun to keep me warm, the precious quiet before the whirling dervishes wake up in the morning. And I pout because He doesn’t give me the big house that would cost me far more than I know. Because I can’t see that living there might cost me my marriage, or the soul of one of my children, or simply ridiculous expenses that would force me to choose paying for groceries or heating bills in the dead of winter. I don’t know. I can’t know.
I admit my faith has been shaken in the last several years of life. The Bible says ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will open. And yet God has said no for five years as I’ve begged him to heal Ben’s legs or fix his brain. He has said no repeatedly when I’ve asked Him to sell our house. He said no when I asked that a friend’s child live through cancer. He said no to fixing the dyslexia with which one son struggles. No to so many big and little requests. I wonder sometimes if God even hears me.
Jesus’ own best friends questioned it. They hung out with God all the time, but even they asked Him, “Lord, just increase our faith.” We must not be believing hard enough for You to hear us. We must not be making enough faith. He said something pivotal. (Of course. He’s Jesus.) “Have faith as a mustard seed.” Then you can tell a tree to go plant itself in the sea, and it would listen (Luke 17:6), or then you could tell a mountain to move, and it would obey (Matthew 17:20).
But mustard seeds are small, insignificant. I think Jesus was telling them it isn’t a matter of amount. I guess faith is more of a light switch. It’s either off or on. Either I trust Him – or I don’t.
My two year old does it all the time. He takes a flying leap off the sofa and expects me to catch him. He trusts me. It’s not a matter of amount. One cannot take a flying leap just a little. If he trusts, he jumps. If he doesn’t, he stays on the sofa. There aren’t degrees of separation. There aren’t levels of faith. All that matters is what his faith is in. Or rather, whom.
And for all the NOs I’ve said to him, even my two year old knows that I’ll say YES when I can. It doesn’t stop him from asking for everything, all the time. I mean constantly. By the minute. Without rest. Always. That’s why there is so much NO. Even two year olds know there will be a YES sometimes. So they keep asking till they get it.
So I’ll go glue some hope bits back together and keep an eye on the toddler who may jump at any minute. And I’ll catch him. Because that’s what I do.
But they’re still not getting a puppy.