This phrase – what cannot be hoarded – flashed in my mind while I was absorbed in one of my favorite pastimes. My love for reading was revitalized during college, and since finishing my studies, I’ve picked up more books and carved out more time to read old and new works of fiction, poetry, and contemporary non-fiction.
For the last several nights, I’ve sat across from my mom, each of us perched in oversized chairs, and brought her into the world of my latest read, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.
Initially, I expected the book would be a private enjoyment and jumped right in, captivated by the author’s superb prose on the first page. His vivid descriptions – from the weather and geography to the inner workings of his characters – made me feel like I was pulling up a chair to enjoy a feast. By the time I was 1/4 of the way through the book, I was commenting often to my mom whenever she was within earshot, “Listen to this part!” or “Whoah, this line is powerful … precise … so insightful – can I read it to you?” She graciously gave a listening ear each time, till one night I said, “Could I read the whole book aloud to you?”
I couldn’t keep what I was reading to myself. I was longing to experience this vibrant storytelling with another person. Perhaps much like the author felt he had to tell this story and let the characters come to life, so I feel I have been given a treasure as the receiver, as the reader, that I want to share with others.
Perhaps it’s the writer in me that feels particularly giddy about good storytelling or fictional characters that embody so well the emotions and actions of living people. Truly, I love literature, and I am eager to invite others to share in my joy.
Reading Peace Like a River to my mom has been illuminating a deeper truth though, beyond my personal delight in books and reading aloud. I cannot hoard the goodness in my life. As one who who has been restored to right relationship with God, I have abundant life in Jesus Christ (John 10:10). This abundance carries into eternity, fueling my hope for heaven, but it is also a reality that characterizes my daily living. Today, I can rightly trust that not only will God’s provision be ample but that it will also overflow and be more than enough. In a psalm many of us know well, David begins with this simple, solid truth – “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” (Psalm 23:1)
To speak of the goodness in our lives, we cannot simply turn our eyes upon our material possessions and measure “goodness” by what we have. To speak of goodness must begin with God Himself and the truth that goodness is inherent to His nature. God is good. Psalm 136 opens with “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good. His love is eternal.” (Ps. 136:1) God’s inherent goodness is beautifully displayed through His triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the love the Father and Son have for each other through the bond of the Holy Spirit, we are given a glimpse into goodness and how it necessarily overflows. It cannot be withheld, it cannot be hoarded. In the very life of God, we see goodness as “out-going,” necessarily released to bless the other.
So what holds us back? What keeps us from giving to others out of our abundance? If our lives as believers are molded by the goodness and saving grace of God, what hinders us from giving to others? Though various reasons may arise for each of us, a common one is certainly fear. Fear that is rooted in the belief that we have meager resources to start with and therefore cannot give freely. We hold back and wonder, If I give, will I have enough for myself? Often, we operate under the belief of scarcity, and we don’t want to risk running out. (Think as deeply or practically as you’d like – the goodness we are tempted to hoard could span from forgiveness to food, possessions, money, time, abilities, even attention.) Perhaps like me, your fear may be connected to how other people receive what you give – will they respond in the way I hope? We hold onto what we have because we don’t want to be hurt or disappointed.
In fear or pride, we hold back from giving because we are focused on how much we can afford to give. But friends, the truth is, we have been given so much in Jesus Christ – all that we need to live a godly life, in fact! (II Peter 1:3) We need not fear we will run out because the goodness we give to others is sourced in our great God and not in ourselves. If what we gave to others depended on our stockpile of resources, we would surely burn out. Rather it is out of the abundant life we have in God and the riches we have in Jesus, that we can give, and give with joy rather than doubt or fear (see II Corinthians 9:8, Colossians 3:2-3 & Philippians 4:19-20).
To all of us, but particularly those who are driven by sacrificial generosity, I want to note that in giving to others, we do not disregard prayer for wisdom and discernment. We must come to the Lord and ask Him for focus and direction as we give to others, because needs will constantly arise around us, and – on the flip side of fear – we cannot think that we are capable of meeting every need for everyone. So that we may be neither overwhelmed by the great need nor paralyzed to step forward, may we daily ask the Lord how He wants us to give. He will surely give us direction; may we have the willingness and joy to respond and obey.
A stirring book, packed with rich prose, reminded me of the wealth of goodness I’ve been given to share with others. Perhaps it seems like a rather childlike or simple reminder, but sometimes it is the small things that God uses to seize our attention, particularly in a year filled with such great loss. How can I, how can we, speak of abundance when so much has been taken away this year? In the eyes of a hurting but watching world, I have every reason to hoard what I “have left.” The only reason I can overflow with anything good is because of Jesus. To love another, to grant forgiveness, to give grace, to offer hope, to bolster another with strength, to speak with kindness – if any of this goodness came from me, I would be depleted in the aftermath of loss. I would have nothing left to give, nothing left to live on. But I do, because of Jesus. I am found in Him, and in Him is a well of abundant life that will never run dry. It is out of the overflow of His goodness that I can give.
If you’re interested in Peace Like a River, please enjoy the excerpt below. I hope it whets your appetite to read the book in full.
Outside, the wind still pushed and grieved round the trailer and we stumbled about inside it, snugging it down with an urgent quiet in our hearts, a fear strangled by cold and hurry. Dad’s head still ached, but he’d regained himself enough to stretch and shadowbox and chide us toward warmth. I remember moving through a sort of stupefaction. Kneeling atop the stove, putting the coffeepot away in its high cupboard, my numb fingers hit a stack of cups and down they all came to explode around my knees. At this Swede began inexplicably to weep. I remember how slowly this appeared to happen — the detachment I felt from the descending cups, the clamor of breakage coming almost before they hit, as if sound outruns sight in the glaciated mind. I remember the noise seeming to delaminate and rearrange into a distorted assemblage of crying and bursting ice. A few moments more and I’d have cried too from pure confusion, except then Dad began to sing.