It’s been dawning on me gradually (I guess that’s how things usually dawn…). I think it started with seeing Starbucks kiosks popping up in nearly every Kroger and Target. And seeing the high schoolers walk into school in the mornings with their drinks from Starbucks or McDonalds. And noticing the line at the Starbucks drive-thru in the mornings, even in this economy. Now, I really don’t have anything against Starbucks. And it’s easy to pick on them because I don’t like coffee. But seeing what was once considered a luxury becoming so commonplace got me thinking.
Is grocery shopping so difficult that we have to reward ourselves for getting it done? Is it such hard work that we need to buy ourselves a treat when we’re finished? Is the trip home from the store such an arduous one that we need to refuel ourselves before we strike out?
Is getting through the day of school so taxing that we need a Grande shot of caffeine to accomplish it? A breakfast at home before we leave isn’t enough?
I remember when parents who bought their kids a treat every time they went to the store were considered to be spoiling their children. We taught our children to behave in the grocery because it was the right thing to do, not because they could earn a treat. Now, it seems routine for adults to buy themselves treats every time they go out.
Again, these observations, and the accompanying judgments, were all too easy for me to make. Remember, I don’t even like coffee. But then it started getting a little too close to home. I would catch myself thinking of hitting the Taco Bell or Wendy’s drive-thru on my way home from a grocery run, even though I’d be home within minutes where I could prepare a sufficient lunch for myself. I would catch myself justifying a stop, “It’s so cheap — a dollar or two. It would be a nice treat…” And all the while I was driving home with bags of fresh, wholesome groceries which I could enjoy on my arrival.
And, I can’t forget the donut case at every grocery store calling my name to stop by and pick one, just one, because I’ve been good about my diet lately or because I’ve been so busy, or things have been rough in one area of my life or another. Surely I deserve a treat.
So, I’ve been thinking. How did we come to be a people who “treat” ourselves so often. We seem to be a nation who is continually treating ourselves. To decadent drinks. To manicures and pedicures and days at the spa. To the latest electronics, even when our current version is quite adequate. It’s almost as if we have believed all the commercials we have watched over the years. I deserve this. Things have been rough lately. I’ve been good. I need a treat, a little something special. I gotta take care of myself.
But does it really satisfy? Is the next latte or smoothie or hot stone massage or Iphone ever enough? Or are we really longing for something more? Aren’t we, who are believers, often at the same time crying out, “Bless me, Lord. I need your presence. I need to feel your touch. Just let me know you’re here with me. Please bless me.”
Is it possible that God would love to bless us — if we would only stop blessing ourselves for a little bit? Is it possible that He has wonderful gifts and surprises and blessings He’d love to give us, special treats created just for us, but seeing us act like spoiled children greedily indulging ourselves, He holds his blessings back? If you had a selfish child, intent on serving himself, would you find any joy in giving him a gift? But what if your child was tenderhearted, serving others with her time and possessions? Wouldn’t you then take great joy in finding just the perfect gift to delight her heart?
Is it possible it’s the same with our Father? What if we people called Christians dedicated ourselves to serving others with our time and our money, looking for ways to “treat” others instead of ourselves? What if we focused our time and energy and money on blessing others and left our treats and blessings in God’s hands, allowing Him to choose when and how to delight us? Can we really trust Him to give us what we need? Even a delicious little treat from time to time?
I was driving my son into Columbus one day (him with his ears full of his music and me enjoying the silence except for the tinny sounds spilling over from his head and occasional snore escaping his mouth) when I really felt God talking to me about this. It had already been such a great ride. God had led me to consider all the blessings he had brought into my life over the past decade, and my heart was swelling with gratitude. Then he led me down this path of thought.
I dropped my son at his class and headed to Kroger to get some shopping done while I waited for him. On my way in I noticed an elderly man in his dark blue uniform gathering carts in the parking lot. The air was already heavy with heat and humidity even at nine in the morning, and I thought of him with sympathy. When I came out later he was still there, still gathering carts in the heat. I wanted to go speak to him, to find some way to encourage him, but just saying, “I noticed you working hard in the heat. Keep up the good work,” seemed lame. I thought if I had a water bottle in my car I’d offer it to him, but I realized if I did have one it would be hot and not at all refreshing.
Then I remembered I had a $5 Starbucks gift card in my purse. I had been given it months earlier as a thank you. I had held onto it, being tempted several times to stop in and by myself a treat but deciding I wanted to wait and use it someday when I was meeting a friend or a person who needed to talk. But, I felt like God was saying, “Use your card to bless that man. Go buy him a cold refreshing drink.”
“Oh, not that card. I’m saving it, Lord, for something special. I’m saving it for a chance to sit and listen and love on a friend. I’m saving it, Lord, for…me. I’ve waited these two months for just the right time to treat….myself. Oh, yeah. That’s what we were just talking about, wasn’t it, Lord?” It was as if I had heard the lecture in the car on the way into town and now it was time for the lab. Time to put it into practice.
So, I put my groceries in the car, went back inside to the Starbucks kiosk. By the time I got to the counter I was so excited I almost cried. An incredible joy was welling up in me. This is why I had the card! I had a perfect opportunity to bless someone, no strings attached. I bought an icy cold strawberry smoothie, returned to the parking lot and found the man still laboring in the oppressive heat. I told him I wanted to bless him and had bought a smoothie for him and asked if he would accept it. He looked at me oddly, took the drink, and thanked me. And we parted, each going our own way, him probably puzzled and, hopefully, encouraged and me joy spilling over in tears on my face.
I shared a treat with that man. And Jesus shared a treat with me, allowing me to join him in blessing one of his beloved. And that treat was sweeter than whatever I would have bought myself at Starbucks with my card. God, I want to live blessing others. I want to use my time and money and energy to bless other people.
And I want to trust you to surprise me with gifts of joy when I need them. Or when it brings you delight to do it just as it did me to share Starbucks with the Kroger man.
I ran at the reservoir the other day. It was beautiful – air cool, humidity low, sun shining, great fluffy clouds (I chased their shadows as they rushed past — they won every time), and water sparkling. And wind blowing. Why, when it’s really blowing, is the wind against me three of the four directions? It was like that today up on the mounded earth that surrounds the reservoir. When I run against the wind and it roars in my ears and mounts its resistance, causing me to strain against it, I always look forward to the relief and boost I’ll feel when I finally reach that turn and head its direction. But when I finally get to run with the wind rather than against it, I don’t feel it at all. It’s not at my face anymore, but I don’t feel it at my back either. It always disappoints me. All I feel is still; still and hot. I complain about it in my head everytime I run on a windy day.
And what if this is true for more than running?