We have a dog named Samwise Gamgee Kelley, and he’s a golden doodle dog. And our kids have loved this dog with their whole hearts since July when he came to live with us as a puppy. We’ve been through all the typical puppy stuff, and are hoping that we are moving into the more docile stage of dog ownership. As we have, the kids have been able to teach Samwise a few tricks along the way.
He knows how to sit. And he knows how to lay down. And he knows how to fetch (sort of). But the kids’ favorite trick with Sam is “touch.”
See, Samwise has an affinity for Cheerios. If you want to play “touch,” you hold a Cheerio in your fist, and say “touch.” Sam will come running, then touch your fist with his nose. You, in return, give the obedient golden doodle to promised Cheerio.
Our kids have developed several variations of this game, and their favorite one right now is making Sam guess which hand the Cheerio is in. Instead of holding out one fist, they hold out two. Sam does not like this game.
That’s because when he guesses incorrectly, and there’s no Cheerio, he knows that one of his humans is holding out on him. That we are keeping something good from him. That we promised something to him and we are not living up to our end of the bargain. It’s frustrating for Sam – you can tell by the way he goes immediately into attack mode (such as it is for a golden doodle).
I resonate with that. No one likes the feeling of believing someone is withholding some good thing from them, especially if they feel entitles to it. And we feel this don’t we? We feel it sometimes very acutely in our relationship with the Lord. We look at our circumstances – how many things are going wrong, and how many other things aren’t going as right as we think they should, and we just feel… slighted. Like God is holding out on us. And most of the time when we feel that way, we go into attack mode. But our attack mode looks like anger, frustration, entitlement, and bitterness to those around us we perceive are getting what we are entitled to.
What do you do when you feel that way? How do you react when you feel that God is holding out on you? I’d suggest three appropriate responses:
1. Act on what you know.
I become more and more certain in my own life that I am overeducated, and under-obedienced. That is to say that there is enough of God’s revealed will in the Bible to keep us busy for a long, long time. I might have questions about what God is doing in this situation or that circumstance, this relationship or that event, but that should not stop me from continuing to do the next right thing. When I feel that God is holding out on me, I can act on what I know instead of dwelling on what I do not.
2. Recognize your lack of understanding.
Jesus once talked about fish and snakes and fathers and sons, saying that no father would give his son a snake when he asked for a fish. And no father would give his son a stone when he asked for bread. His argument was that if we, as sinful fathers, know how to give good gifts to our children, then how much more does our Father in heaven (Matt.7:9-11). In Jesus’ scenario, I am the son, and God is the Father. I’m the one asking, and He’s the One giving. But the problem is that, in retrospect, I have often realized that I thought I was asking my Father for a fish only to realize later that I was asking for a snake. So when I feel that God is holding out on me, I can recognize my own lack of understanding. Maybe that which I am so convinced I need is actually a stone or a snake instead of bread or a fish.
3. Look to the cross.
When I feel like God is holding out on me, it’s always because my focus has shifted to my circumstances. And when my gaze is fixed there, then it might truly seem like He is holding back. But time and time again, we are exhorted in Scripture to look to the cross – to fix our eyes there, where we see the validation of God’s generosity and mercy and love and forgiveness. When I feel like God is holding out on me, the thing I need to do more than anything else is remember that He who gave up His own Son for me will also surely provide everything else for me that I ultimately need.
Is God holding out on you? Maybe He is. But if that is so, then by looking to the cross, recognizing our own lack of understanding, and acting on what we know reminds us that there’s a good reason for it. And it’s not that he’s playing some kind of childish game with you. He is, after all, your Father who loves you.