I was cleaning the microwave several weeks ago. This was not cause for a blog post, but, as I was scrubbing the microwave’s ceiling, I noticed that it had developed large, brown bubbles. Flakes of rusted ceiling came off on my sponge, and melted plastic gushed at the edges.
I found it rather worrying, but I still chose to reheat my coffee. Reheating coffee is a ritual that I enjoy all morning. But this time, when I heard the happy beep of completion, I noticed that the top of the microwave was sizzling hot. I dumped the coffee, but it was probably too late. I had already given myself, and my family, and our recent house guests cancer, chronic cellular damage, or DNA mutations.
I stopped using the microwave. Then, one evening, on one of our frequent family outings to the Home Depot, I saw new microwaves on sale.
A few months ago we wrapped up a Sunday evening series on the persecuted church. The series slowed me down. It helped me think about what I really have—especially those invisible blessings that I rarely notice, like opening the curtains and seeing my neighbor’s house still standing. We sat around a table, feeling the evening sunshine splash through the window and discussing how Christians endure persecution. One person said it takes an eternal perspective—the realization that this whole world is just a layover on our way to the next one, and that even if we have to spend the whole, rotten layover shivering on a bench, we can do it with hope. We can do it with the deep, soul-settling joy of knowing this is not where we are headed. Another person said obviously Christians don’t endure persecution in their own strength—God blesses them with supernatural perspective and endurance.
I had a lot to think about, and a lot to sift the Scriptures for. I wondered whether God selects certain people to miraculously bless with an eternal mindset. If so, I am sure missionaries get one. Some pastors get one. All Christians in Nigeria and Iraq and Syria get one. But, maybe, since I get to live in a wealthy Western country, I don’t get one. Instead of an eternal perspective, I get a van, a laptop, and political stability.
I hunted through the Bible, some systematic theologies, and a commentary to find out if the Bible says that some Christians get blessed with an eternal perspective and great spiritual endurance while others are destined for spiritual weakness and distraction. I read John 16:33 and 1 Peter 4, which say that all of Jesus’ followers will experience trials and troubles of various kinds. I read 2 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Peter 1:6-7, and Romans 5:3-4 which suggest that it is our response to trials that develops (or fails to develop) character and eternal hope. Scripture seems to say God regularly presents all of us with opportunities either to nourish an eternal mindset, or to suffocate it under earthly preoccupations.
This has impressive ramifications for me.
I often feel that most of my “trials” would never appear on an Index of World Trials. If there were such a document, it would be hundreds of pages long, and somewhere near the very end, in a brief, ad hoc appendix, under “inconveniences affecting middle-class citizens of inordinately affluent nations” would be listed some of the major tribulations I have endured lately. Like having to live without a microwave for a week.
When I saw microwaves on sale at Home Depot, I grabbed Gary’s elbow and pointed them out. He responded the way I hoped he would. “Pick one, Baby.” They were pretty, and matte, and brushed with stainless steel. I chose the nicest one.
But when we bundled it home and unwrapped it, I realized that it was bigger than my old microwave. I jammed it under the cupboards, where it bulged in the corner. It looked crowded and heavy. It left little room for me to chop lettuce. Gary offered to take it back. I nodded in relief and packed the microwave back up. Then I waited in hope that he would exchange it quickly.
Two days later Gary came home with a new microwave. Microwave number three. It was the perfect size. It sat modestly in its corner of the counter, not overwhelming the space. But it wasn’t pretty, or matte, or brushed with stainless steel. It was tacky. It looked like it had been originally designed as a spacecraft, with plastic, aerodynamic gills and a massive, shimmering control panel. I sat at my table and stared at it, while a battle of eternal value raged inside me.
The microwave was ugly.
But it was BRAND NEW. In the global directory of housewives, very few of us get brand new appliances. My mom never did.
But the microwave was ugly.
But who, in their right mind, would care?? Only me. I would always and forever be the only person who cared what my microwave looked like, and probably the only one who even noticed. Microwaves are practically invisible. I can’t tell you what any of my friends’ microwaves look like, although I have used many of them. And my new microwave was only ugly in comparison to the other microwaves at the store. Comparisons are dangerous things.
I imagined trying to explain to my mother that I had asked my tired husband to return the third microwave on the grounds that it was ugly.
“What?” She would shout into the phone. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you! It sounded like you said the microwave was ugly!”
“Well, mom, what I mean is, it looks like plastic.”
“What did you say? Did you say it doesn’t work?? Did it melt?? For a moment I thought you said you might return it because you didn’t like the way that it looked. Ha ha! These old phones.”
“No, Mom, it works perfectly. It’s brand new. It’s just...”
There was no way to justify my feelings toward the microwave. And in that moment, I believe, God was presenting this spoiled, earth-bound woman with an opportunity to embrace the eternal, to stop fussing and fretting over the cosmetic details of her kitchen, and to steadfastly fix her heart onto something momentous, real, and precious.
But I didn’t. Instead, I boxed up that ugly microwave and hauled it to the garage. Then I went to a different department store and personally selected a sleek, compact, elegant microwave that would perfectly balance the feng shui of my kitchen. I shushed the little voice inside me that sounded like my mother (who has always sounded just like the embodiment of Wisdom in the Proverbs) and I steamed my way towards the stainless kitchen of my dreams. I chose something nice. I chose something good. But I rejected something better.
I hope next time I choose differently. Gary, the wise head of our household, modeled for me what a different, better choice can look like. Our four-year-old recently got a flat tire on her bike. Her bike came from a garage sale. It was once shiny pink with Cinderella stickers on the frame, streamers on the handlebars, and a purple basket. Now it’s seat is entirely covered in duct tape, it is dull and rusty, and the basket is busted off. When the tire went flat, Gary shopped for a new one, and discovered that it is almost as cheap to buy a whole new bike (which has two tires) as to buy a single wheel. He came home with a gorgeous, gaudy, new bicycle, sparkly and bright, and fit for a Disney princess.
And then he did something so simple, so counter-cultural, and so wise that for a day I thought he was crazy. He hid it. He took off a tire and stashed the stunning new bike under his work bench in the garage. He put the new tire on the old bike, and presented it to our girl. Her reaction was priceless. She danced. She sang. She crooned and thanked her daddy over and over. She flew down the driveway on that beat up old bicycle wearing a dress, jeans, flipflops, and the unashamed joy of real gratitude. She grabbed her friend’s hand when she came by our house and invited her to come see her new tire.
I was astonished.
It is hard to raise thankful kids. Sometimes it requires doing the opposite of what your culture, and even your own heart tells you to do. My kids are still small, but already they are drowning in things, things so many and so fancy and so perfect that most of them are neglected. I watch my children, and children like them, stamping and storming for new things, most of which they will never appreciate. And I wonder if God also knows the challenge of raising thankful kids. Did He, in His mercy, watch me react to my new microwave, watch me stamp and storm and battle for another one, and wish that I had been more like my daughter—more thankful, more radiant, more eternally minded? I know He loves me, loves me with a love deeper and fiercer than my feeble heart can understand, but, like Gary with his little girl, it is precisely because He loves me that he wants what is better for me. I wonder if He sometimes hides pretty things under the work bench, withholding them in mercy so I will learn that what is in my heart is far more precious than what is in my kitchen.
Maybe that is the real secret of the persecuted church. Maybe they have, through diligent application, learned to be grateful and to fix their eyes on things above.
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth.” –Colossians 3:1-2