If you are just joining me, welcome! You can find an explanation of this series here: Day 1 – Introduction.
And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Matthew 14:19
Story: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15
NOTE: Ann Voskamp wrote a bestseller called One Thousand Gifts – which I highly recommend – based on the idea that gratitude always precedes the miracle. She highlights this story of Jesus giving thanks before he does the miracle of feeding the five thousand. Her latest book, The Broken Way – which just arrived in my mailbox yesterday! – is based on Jesus’ next action of breaking the food before miraculously distributing it. My observation focuses on the two actions Jesus did before either thanking or breaking – taking and looking up.
I’ve lived in a half dozen homes over my lifetime. Our current home has a bathtub that helps me relax just looking at it. But in the first six months we lived here, I think I used it once. Not because there was anything wrong with it; there was something wrong with me!
Maybe you aren’t the soak-in-the-tub kind of person. I didn’t used to be either. Our last home’s bathtub was rather nasty. I made my husband promise he’d fix it before the kids were born so we’d have a place to bathe them! (He did, because he’s wonderful.) But moving to our current home awakened a desire to become a regular bath-taker.
The problem is, I struggle to take grace even when it’s readily available. I feel I’m supposed to restrain myself. It’s for people who deserve it, my non-logic goes. It’s baloney through and through, and I’d be the first to try to persuade a friend otherwise…but as for me and my household?
What keeps me from taking baths and soaking in grace? What lies have I listened to that need to leave right now? I think the lie I believed was that grace was just for salvation, not for every nanosecond of the rest of my life for infinity and beyond. I didn’t know that God wanted me to daily take grace, feast on it, marinate in it, let it seep into my pores, into the deepest parts of my broken places, and heal me. We don’t just take one bath when we’re born and call it good.
Like taking a bath is good physical hygiene, taking grace is good spiritual hygiene.
Jesus sought out and took the meager grace his Heavenly Father had chosen to feed thousands. How can I actively seek out grace like that? Do I hunt down the God-placed gifts in myself, as meager as they may seem when compared to the overwhelming needs around me?
It was a story so important it was told four times – once in each gospel. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record: taking, looking up, gave thanks, and broke. John is the only gospel that words it differently: took, gave thanks, and distributed.
Do you also find the order backward? To me it would make more sense to look up and then take. But God put it exactly in this order three times out of the four gospels: the taking comes before the looking up. (The fourth omitted the looking up but taking still came first.)
(So maybe the line for Look Up Sometimes should actually read: embrace and glimpse God’s grace instead of vice versa.)
Before I can give thanks and give myself for others’ spiritual nourishment, I need to take God’s grace for myself and look up.
It’s not selfish to be a taker of God’s grace. I think another lie I’ve believed is that taking grace is the same as abusing it. I looked up abuse to get a better handle on what exactly that means: a corrupt practice, improper or excessive use, a deceitful act. Am I taking grace because I’m planning to sin or because I’m planning to grow? Abusing is bad. Taking is good. It saves me. None of us deserve it anyway. And Jesus paid such a high price, I’d be a fool not to enjoy it. It honors Jesus when I take his grace. And if I’m still doubtful, I’m not truly helpful to anyone until I do.
If I want the miracle of nourishing others, I can’t skip steps or change the order. Taking comes first. Looking up and acknowledging the source of grace is second. Then I can move on to the gratitude and nourishing others business. I can’t simply re-gift God’s grace to everyone except myself, and expect myself to overflow with gratitude or be truly helpful. I’ll only end up burnt out and bitter.
If we’re children of God and we start out as infants, babies don’t start out understanding who’s taking care of them, they just take what they need. And they should! Who thinks babies are selfish for eating? (Ok, don’t ask that to a sleep-deprived parent in the middle of the night…) It’s not long and babies look up and in their own way acknowledge their parent. And hopefully, the child learns gratitude as they develop. It’s not until much farther into their development that they’re mature enough to show voluntary compassion. And that only comes, I daresay, if their grace intake has been sufficient.
It makes sense in my gut. I have to take grace in order to grow. There are times I’ve been so low I could only take grace, couldn’t even look up. But it comes. And so does gratitude. And eventually, once something of value has been created through the situation, I have something to offer another. I can let God lead me through the stages of taking, looking up, being grateful, and giving of myself. I get to be patient with myself.
I still only take baths once in a while, but I’m getting better. (And don’t worry, I still shower regularly – analogies can only go so far.) Earlier in the year, I bought some bath salts from a friend who is a Perfectly Posh consultant. The hope was they’d encourage a higher bath-taking rate. I ended up giving most of them away, because they make great gifts (my kids and my husband enjoyed them too). But I used one last night and they are fantastic! I even lit candles – which I bought two years ago – for the first time. (I told you I have issues.) And, writing this post prompted me to place another Posh order to remind me to take grace.
What helps remind you to take grace?
(For amazing bath salts and other great skin care products made with all natural ingredients and no fillers, check out my friend Kathy’s web page: https://www.perfectlyposh.com/kathyrennhack/ )