Red Bow Not Included

A curious thing happens when you have a lot of Christian Facebook friends: you see a lot of the same Hallmark-card-style pictures going around. And around. A lot.
Pictures like this:

Clearly teddy bears are important to Jesus. ...or He just got back from winning carnival games; it could be that.

Clearly teddy bears are important to Jesus. …or He just got back from winning carnival games; it could be that.

This is a simple way to show a foundational concept: whenever God asks you to give something up, it’s because He’s about to replace it with a bigger and better version.

In this case, a giant teddy bear.But wait–there’s more! Turn in your normal-sized teddy bear today, and Jesus will give you the giant bear!

Some restrictions may apply. Must be eighteen or older to call.

I’m kidding about the bow. But I’m not kidding about this particular idea striking me as a little bit off. If the entire point of God asking us to make sacrifices is for Him to turn around and give us a prize, life seems petty. In that case, sacrifice loses its significance. It’s no longer sacrifice to hand over our hopes, our dreams, our loves–because we know that as soon as we do, we’ll get better. That turns sacrifice into investment, and that makes the entire concept sound…well, mercenary.

What if God asks us to sacrifice? And what if He doesn’t offer replacements?

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I was fifteen, and I was offered horse. I’d begged for a horse my whole life. But horses eat a lot, we lived in the desert where there’s not much grazing, and my family’s not exactly wealthy. We crunched numbers. We figured we could afford my horse. We said yes. Then my parents figured out a mistake in our numbers; we were off by about $80 a month, and getting the horse went from an exciting prospect to an impossibility. Through my tears, I told God that He could have my dream of owning a horse.

A week later we got a call. Our financial situation changed–by $80 a month. God gave me my horse.

Oh--and, believe it or not, her name was Happy.

Oh–and, believe it or not, her name was Happy.

“But that doesn’t illustrate your point at all,” you say. So let me tell you another story.

I went to a two-year Bible college after I graduated high school. I made close friends, invested in relationships, studied like crazy, learned to swing dance, and discovered the agony joy of exegetical hermeneutics. I counted on four semesters of that thrilling life. Instead, I ran out of money by the end of my first semester. I had no financial aid and couldn’t find a job. Through my tears, I told God that He could have my dream of finishing a Biblical studies degree.

A few months later, I moved all my things back home and found a job in town. God didn’t give me my degree.

And you know what? He didn’t give me something bigger and better to make up for it. I spent the next few months working myself to exhaustion trying to save up enough money to move on. I went to the next step in my life plan: university. And university is great.

But it’s not a giant teddy bear with a red ribbon around its neck.

Because sometimes when God asks me to give up my dreams, He doesn’t give me a teddy bear for them. Sometimes He just gives me Himself, and says, “Am I enough?” Someone  recently challenged me to ask: Is God enough? Without His promises, without His blessings, is He enough? It seems like a hard question. But if you think about it, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

The great I Am. The Creator of the universe. The all-powerful, galaxy-breathing God.

What more do I think there is?

….And for those of you who are saying, “This is all very nice, but a theological rant doesn’t quite fit with your theme of facing a fear for every blog post” …God breathed suns into existence, He breathed life into you, and you’re asking Him for a teddy bear. How scary is that? Frankly, this entire concept terrifies me.

Besides–right now, I think God’s asking me for a dream. So today I gave it to Him.

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About Elizabeth Syson

While consuming tea and coffee at an alarming rate, I read and write everything I can and pursue my unnatural love of copyediting. My hobbies include learning new instruments and languages, riding horseback, sketching very badly indeed, and periodically recommitting to doing yoga regularly. View all posts by Elizabeth Syson

3 responses to “Red Bow Not Included

  • Mikaela

    When you write like this, it reminds me of why I love you so much Liz. You always say what I wish I could, but I constantly fail at communicating it. You make it seem so easy and crystal clear. I love reading your writing for that sake. You always just take the words right out of my mouth, I can’t lie, it makes me envious. Equally, you sometimes answer curiosities I never knew were there until after you’ve already revealed the answer for me.

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  • Ryan

    This is a photo commonly used to try illustrate relationships for teenagers.. sometimes you become involved with someone who your in love with but things dont go right and you just wanna hold onto them and never let them go. And you wamna keep loving them and you wanna be with them forever. But when theyre gone and you cant hold on you have to remember go put that person in your life to prepare you for the next person who is going to be even more special in your life… just like when as a child your parents gave you a small minute toy that im sure you were devastated that you had to let go of when it got torn or started to smell or fell apart. It hurts but you were greeted later in life with a better toy that ment even more to you then before. The message of giving things up to god to get better things is just false and im a little sorry you heard it that way but thats not what this photo is ment for.

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    • Elizabeth Syson

      Interesting; I’ve actually never heard that use for the illustration. I’d still disagree with your assessment, actually. I don’t think someone better always does come along. I think a lot of times in life, things go wrong and there’s no consolation prize. I think in the realm of relationships, we’re still asked to be willing to give up what we want with no promise of a reward. The next person might not be more special. I think it’s still false hope to say there’s always someone better coming along–that’s not to say I don’t think something is gained in the way of experience, perspective, growth, etc. when good things go bad, but I think it’s still a gross oversimplification to say that letting go of one thing always comes with the promise of something better, whether that’s relating to relationships, aspirations, physical possessions, or anything else. However, I also think that sometimes simplified hope can be helpful when we need something to cling to, so if this works for you in that respect, I’m happy for you. Keep on hoping. Experience really is 99% attitude in the end.

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