It has happened to me more than once over the last two years. Surrounded by thousands of people standing and singing, I just could not bring myself to join in.
You give and take away,
You give and take away;
My heart will choose to say,
“Lord, blessed be your name.”
God, you give and take away,
Oh, you give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Not this time. Instead of singing, I wrestled. Is my heart really, really, really okay with the truth that he gives and takes away?
No, it’s not.
Yes, it is.
No, it’s not.
Yes, it is.
No, because being given something and then having it takenaway hurts, feels unfair, breaks our heart and goes against everything we think is good. It is a foreign thought to us that we would give someone a gift and then one day go and take it away. No warning, no questioning, just barging in and taking that gift that was freely given. That isn’t the gift-giving practice most of us follow.
Could you imagine if that was the norm? Some of us would probably stop receiving gifts because the thought of having it taken away would be worse than never having it. We would close up our hearts to believing that any gift could be a “forever” gift. Some of us would hide our gift so that it could never be found, missing out as it stays locked away.
So, what do we do with a God who gives us gifts but also takes away? My initial reaction is to say no this is not okay. I’m not okay with God giving me a gift and then taking it away without even talking to me about it. That is just mean and cruel. It leaves me wondering if God should be trusted. Should I ask for things I really desire, only to know my heart could be broken by his giving and taking? Should I protect myself by never letting myself fully love and enjoy the gifts he has given? Should I go and try to find my own way of getting what I want in life, because surely he won’t take what I earned and worked for?
I wrestled with these thoughts as the song filled the church. God gave me the gift of a baby after eight years of longing. I was going to one day hear the word, “Mommy” and it was going to come from my little one nestled up close to me. Yes, I was going to be a mommy. I did receive the gift of motherhood but my sweet little gift was taken from me before I ever heard her say those words. I never even heard a whimper. I never got to see the sparkle in her eyes. No, my gift was taken away all too soon and my heart broke.
People lifted their voices declaring they would choose to bless the Lord even though he gives and takes away and I wondered if I could do the same. The song was much easier to sing in years prior to having such a precious gift taken from me. I felt like I needed to decide if I would choose to say, “God, I bless your name even though you give and take away.” I didn’t want to just mouth the words, so I stood quietly and let my heart feel the struggle. I wanted to quickly snap myself into the mode of just saying, “Yes it is okay” but I didn’t. I let myself be okay with, “I don’t know if I’m able to declare this today.”
The song ended and we moved on to another song – one that was easier to sing and eventually the wrestling subsided. I’m not sure if I ever really went back to reconsider how I felt about God giving and taking, but one thing I do know is that God is faithful even when I can’t decide how I feel about him. He doesn’t abandon me or punish me for questioning his ways. He keeps on loving me!
He loves me with a love so strong. A love that is strong enough to carry me through the times when he takes away that which I love – kind of a strange truth to consider. I will never welcome or invite him to take away the things he has given me. No, that is not something any of us want to have happen but I will rejoice that my God’s love is mighty and able to help me endure the times when I miss the gifts that have been taken.
The last several days I have been reading John 1:1-13. The following verses caught my attention:
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of me.” V 3&4
“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” V 9
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” V 12
“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” V 18
Our God gives. He gives life and light and grace and truth! And then today I read the following verse.
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” V 29
Our God takes. He takes away the sins of the world! He takes away the sins that have kept us in darkness and separated us from his love. He takes away sin so that we can one day reign with him forever in purity and perfection where there will be no more tears.
And it cost him dearly.
He laid down his life, so that we could have life. I realized God understands the pain of having something we love taken away. He understands suffering as he himself suffered.
I trust God is in control of all things but I also believe sin plays a part in the suffering and losses we experience. For God created the world in perfection and death only entered the scene when Adam and Eve sinned. I believe the heart of God is to restore all things and make new that which has been broken. I’m wondering how much God really takes away from us? Maybe some of the things we lose and feel he has taken away, break his heart just as much as they break ours. Maybe it seems unfair to him, too, when we lose our babies and moms and dads before we want to say goodbye. Maybe it doesn’t seem good to him that without warning the gift he has given is snatched from our lives.
Maybe this is one of the reasons he came to take away the sins of the world…so he could one day make all things new and there will be no more goodbyes.
This Christmas two decorations hang on my tree. I never dreamed I would actually get to have even one of these decorations, but I have two. Two ornaments with the faces of my sweet babies. This year would have been Zoe’s third Christmas. I’d love to see her face light up to the twinkling lights and bright colored bows and wrapping paper. I would love to snuggle her and dress her in a special Christmas outfit. But that is not a part of this Christmas. I trust she will be having a grand celebration and will be wearing the most beautiful dress for the special day. My heart has found a way to both rejoice and grieve around these special days. I’ve learned to say God is good and blessed be his name always! He is a God who gives and takes away but He is also a God who understands our pain. He is okay when we can’t sing along with the songs at church.
I wasn’t able to go to church the Christmas after Zoe died. The thought of all the songs of peace, joy and hope felt like too much. I still had faith and still loved God but my broken heart felt too weak. I stayed home and curled up in a ball with tears streaming down my cheeks. A part of me felt guilty for not going and worshipping along with others but I think God was okay with my decision to pour out my grief with moans instead of mouthing words that my heart did not feel. Maybe you find yourself in a similar place, struggling to sing along at church. Maybe God’s invitation to you this Christmas is to be okay with not knowing how you feel when he gives and takes away. He will keep on loving and keep carrying you as you struggle and question. His love is just that grand.
This Christmas I will snuggle with my little boy and watch his eyes light up. I’ll listen to his giggles and celebrate the gift he is. I don’t want to miss out and protect my heart in fear that my gift will be taken away. Instead I want to fully experience the grandness of the gift God has given – Life! I will also be mindful that not everyone is able to join in the celebrations like they have in years past. May compassion fill our churches and homes as people enter with all kinds of thoughts and questions.