the generous opportunity of lack

We’re not sure if ‘lack’ is a particularly popular word with anyone, but it’s definitely a four letter word if you’re committed to fighting injustice. Which we are. Put it in almost any context and it inspires compassion, determination and righteous anger. It is a problem to be solved – and any delay or failure to it being addressed is usually the result of someone with much withholding or controlling something that another child of God desperately needs. So what on earth do we mean by the generous opportunity of lack… and why of all people are we the ones highlighting it?

glass empty

Like many things we write about, it’s because it’s a theme that has come up again and again. And in the last few weeks it’s definitely been a refrain… not so much “are you prepared to look at the world as glass half full rather than half empty” but more “are you prepared to recognise the potential of an empty glass?”

In a discussion during morning worship sharing our testimonies of God’s provision when we were focusing on God being ‘extravagantly generous’ for the day… a pattern emerged.

Almost every story started with a significant sense of lack. Indeed, often that lack continued alongside the gift. In most of our experiences God’s generosity would have still been exactly that in plenty, but it showed up even more – and created more awe, wonder and grateful worship – in lack. In some of the stories, we had a distinct sense that the generosity happenedĀ because of the lack… and what feels more blessed – the experience of needing nothing, or receiving just exactly what we needed with perfect timing?

On Valentine’s Day, the impetus to tell our town they are LOVED came from Jill and I. In other words two single women experiencing a lack generated availability and time but crucially inspired a heart both to cling on to God’s love… and a desire to tell others about it that day. As a result we were part of leading a team to pursue hundreds of God’s valentines, instead of just one each.

It was the same with Mothering Sunday… there was a particular grace and sensitivity shown to the needs of all who find the day difficult by the members of our community who also have echoes of pain on this day…. whether because they long for children but don’t have them, have experienced or walked alongside someone else experiencing the heartbreak of miscarriage or infertility or have received wounds from abandonment, bereavement or simply a difficult relationship with their own mother.

It was precisely because of a couple of these reasons that I had the time on that Sunday morning to find and widely share point 2 from this articlewritten by someone else who chose to follow Jesus’ example and use their lack and pain to bless, inspire and challenge others… rather than retreating into it (and with what grace she did so).

The extract was shared and re-shared… seen by more and more people who whether they were mothers or not, found it spoke helpfully into their pain, opened their eyes to others’ and inspired them to pray and act in a different way as a result. Again I saw the generous multiplication of blessing from mine and others’ lack.

But on Mothering Sunday I received a gift into my own lack too. When the flowers were given out to all the women in the church by the children (who were told to find their own mums first)… a very special little girl came to find Jill and I first and deliberately… this was because we are both known and loved by this child and her parents. But it was also because her mother wasn’t there for two very tiny, new and positive reasons!

On a difficult day, it was infinitely special to receive this gift from this precious little person at the same time (not after) the actual mums in church. She and her dad turned the absence of her mum that day into a multiplied blessing for more people and they probably didn’t realise the impact it had because I didn’t want to cry about this in front of her so the tears stayed in my eyes and at the back of my throat.

I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment because in my lack, again and again, she and her parents live out this scripture for me and welcome me into their family. And this means so much more to me than it could if I didn’t have the lack as well as their loving friendship.

The passage in focus that Sunday was one of my all time favourites – and one which demonstrates this theme too. What do you get when you bring together a drought, a famine, a prophet, a starving widow an orphan and no food?

This is of course the hallmark of the upside down kingdom. Out of death comes life, out of ashes come beauty… out of desperation comes a heart-cry prayer that could never else been prayed.

It is not the lack itself that is good. Not when it is a lack of good things that we rightly long for and God designed us to have. And certainly never when it’s poverty. Let’s never think that.

Our God is all about enough to overflowing – he created extravagantly, he tells us to pray for our daily bread because he knows we need it, he redeemed sacrificially and he will restore completely. He is in no way a fan of pain, tears, disappointments, crushed hopes or death!

But to the person with a soft heart towards God and others, lack is not just hard and painful… it is also a generous opportunity:

It can highlight the true value of what we have and increase our gratitude for it.

It can create an opportunity for us not to miss it when God does something extraordinary in the midst of it.

And it can grow an extraordinary empathy, sensitivity and capacity for compassion in us if we let God use it in this way.

It can create space and time which can be re-invested in God’s kingdom.

It can remind us of godly desires so that we share them – and our pain at them being unfulfilled – openly and honestly with God and safe community… enriching everyone in the process and perhaps paving the way to healing and transformation.

When it’s about our weakness, it can become an invitation to minister out of God’s strength – or with the body’s help. Or it can lead us to a new place of discovery where we begin to learn and accept what we never could when we were fully productive – that our value comes simply from our being image-bearers of God, rather than from our work, ministry or creative output.

And whatever the deficiency – in resources, relationships or gifting – lack can inspire creative solutions and new perspectives to meet needs or clarify whether things really are needed as much as we thought they were after all.

Lack can inspire greater generosity in others who have – because they see a need and are moved to give.

And it can inspire greater generosity in those who don’t have too.

For often it is those who lack who give the most… maybe sometimes because they have less to lose or distract… but sometimes also because they have come to prize pouring extravagance into others’ lack as being as important as receiving themselves in a way that perhaps those who do not lack will never fully see

Cue the widow at the temple who had one coin and gave it away to God… and therefore to funds that were used – in significant part – to meet the needs of widows and orphans.

Cue multiple conversations with people returning from time spent in poorer communities who now miss the hospitality, generosity and community that have no parallel in societies where most people are largely self-sufficient.

Certainly this has been my experience in my own downwardly mobile journey too. Helping to lead the Sanctuary means I do more work, but for less money than I used to receive. In fact much of my best work is done for no payment. I have my bad days when I question the cost(!) but overall I have more thankfulness and sense of gratitude than I did when I was paid a good salary in proportionate return for my contribution.

Each piece of paid work is so welcome… each fee received is so needed… and in between there is the freedom to create only as God inspires… and then of course to share this with others.

Of course I’m not walking with the world’s poor in any comparable sense. But I do know now what it’s like to have no security, no fixed income, no certainty about the next piece of work… it’s made me care less about myself and more about others and wrestle to care when I’m struggling to.

I don’t look enough like Jesus for many people not to be able to still completely miss the resemblance but I’m blogging this honestly because sometimes English reticence leads us not to share the very stories that might set us all free.

So can you forgive me for asking, what lack do you have that is – or could become – a generous opportunity?

Whether we’re in plenty or lack, kingdom equality is one of the most beautiful things to be part of building… so let’s pray we will all say yes to God’s generous invitations to each one of us.

Liz Baddaley

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