Having your birthday fall near to Martin Luther King Jr day was great growing up. It meant that you got a long weekend, a day off of school, for “your birthday.” What a gift. That extra day for my family meant a family ski trip up to Massanutten with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Mom would sneak a birthday cake into the trunk and the family stowed away birthday gifts each and every year. I would be surrounded by snow covered hills and a room full of loved ones celebrating me! For the rest of the family, March, April and May are the birthday months and where the big family birthday party takes place. So, getting one just for me, in January, with the entire family was something I cherished.
I think my love for birthdays grew out of this time. Not just for mine, but for any birthday. I see it as the one day of the year that gets to be “yours.” In my childhood home, if it was your birthday YOU got to pick what was being served for dinner that night. If it was your birthday YOU got to chose whether it was bowling or laser tag or what movie we went to see. Perhaps, this isn’t a big deal for most, but growing up as the only girl in between two boys, I often got out numbered, and loved the freedom to choose MY wants, on My day.
Sounds a little self indulgent doesn’t it!
As some of you know, Melinda and I, have set aside 21 days to give God the first of our fruits. For us, this means a form of fasting in several areas of our daily lives. As we pray over what is to be eliminated from our comfortable life, and begin this 21 day journey, I always (sad, but true) throw a minor hissy fit about it falling on my birthday every year. So, to appease my selfish desires, a birthday hiatus is built in. (Hence, why I am here).
Another sad truth, is that I have never been bothered by taking this hiatus. I mean, it’s my birthday. And honestly, what is a birthday without some delicious food, a glass of red wine, and a lip smacking, mouth watering, moist piece of birthday cake (or whatever dessert I happen choose).
Last night we broke fast in oder to enjoy an amazing birthday meal at Edo Squid with some friends, and even though this was the plan from day one, I still laid my head down last night and couldn’t help but think I failed. Not as in, I failed God and he was disappointed, but as in I failed to choose him and his will and his kingdom over me and my will and my happiness in the moment.
You see, the truth is I am trapped—-trapped by the comforts of our luxurious life. And yes, my life is luxurious, even though I often think it is not. There have been several nights these past 12 days that I went to bed grateful for a warm bed in a warm house—comforts so expected that I barely register as blessings. There has been days were my stomach has rumbled, and I prayed for those who live in constant hunger—something I know nothing of.
In our culture, we find it so easy to justify the desires of self. In our culture, churches easily justifies a system that is willing to spend millions on church buildings while the world is crying out for an intervention. I find it easy to justify self, while my soul is breaking under the tension and restless for more. I too get frustrated with the character of most American churches today, but I have to admit that I too contribute to the problem.
I have been camped out in Romans 12 the past few days, wrestling with idea of self, particularly vs. 3:
“Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”
I chuckle as I read the study notes on this verse in my Bible. (Just for the record, I think most of those notes miss the point, and I feel they do here as well.) The notes go into the importance of self-worth and self-identity, but what if it’s not about the “self” at all?
When the angel came to the virgin Mary and told her she was prego, I have a hard time believing that she replied “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38) because she felt self worth because she was chosen to be the talk of the town. the laughing stock, or the biggest story in the gossip ring. If we keep reading of her song of praise in vs. 46 I think it was her soul who felts it’s worth, not her self.
And maybe it’s not trying to win our battle over self, but rather a battle to get our soul to find it’s worth in the presence of God. And for me, with all the entanglements of living the American dream, my soul has had little time to find it’s worth. These last 12 days we have aimed to set aside those distractions and our desires in order to seek God’s presence. We have strived to deny self, giving up our cherished yet abused luxuries in order to create the margins where God has room to stir up our hearts and for our souls to find their worth. It’s in our sacrifices, we have realized just how much he truly sacrificed for us. It’s through our sacrifices that we have been brought to the foot of the cross—to the ultimately sacrifice that challenges us to radically live and to radically love out side of this overstuffed, overfilled and overflowing life of self we so easy end up living.
I am not sure what God has in store for the 9 days remaining, but I am sure if I let him, He will continue to rock my world, in a beautiful transformative way.
As for the birthday hiatus, we will carry on the rest of this weekend with our scheduled plans—getting loved on by good friends and family and breaking bread together over some yummy goods. I still think Birthdays ought be celebrated, just maybe not as self indulgent as I have made them to be. Perhaps I’ll ring in the BIG 35 next year with juiced spinach and blueberries and be completely content, knowing it’s not a huge celebration or delicious birthday cake that defines me and my birthday, but rather having a soul who has found it’s worth in His presence at the foot of Christ’s cross.