A couple nights after having returned from the mission to southern Honduras to install potable water and share God’s Word with a dynamic community of believers, I told Darwin and our seven kids that I wanted to be able to share with them some of what the Lord had taught me during the trip. They agreed, so after a long day we all shuffled into our almost-furnitureless living room after dinner, and I began lighting candles and setting them all over our tile floor. Our kids – several of whom are most likely undiagnosed pyromaniacs – quickly jumped in to ‘help’ with the lighting, and soon enough we had several dozen candles all over our floor as the nine of us took our seats cross-legged in an imperfect circle.
I began, not really sure of what I would say, but eager for the Lord to give me whatever words He wanted us to hear: “Does anyone have any guesses as to why we’ve lit candles instead of simply turning the lights on as usual?”
Jason, our 8-year-old, said, “Light in the darkness! Christ is the light?”
“That’s true, but that’s not the reason…Why the candles? Any other ideas?”
Darwin or our eldest daughter guessed that perhaps the number of candles represented the number of people who came to accept the Lord during our trip, but neither was that the reason.
After several more good guesses, I laughed and said, “It’s simply because in the village where we stayed, they have no electricity. Each night we were in total darkness unless someone turned on a flashlight or lit a candle. A lot of people around the world live like that.”
Each person had their Bible in hand as I began sharing of my experiences in a little mountainous town on the other side of the country where the men work all day on steep mountainsides planting and harvesting corn and beans while the women work over fire stoves to make corn tortillas out of what the men harvest. To enjoy any education after the 6th grade, I was told the villagers have to walk 2 hours down the mountain and then take a 45-minute bus to the closest high school.
As the Lord guided our discussion, we took about 10 minutes so that each person made a list of all the material blessings we as a family experience on a day-to-day basis, from beds with mattresses (rather than hammocks or sleeping on the floor) to having a simple indoor bathroom stall that is far more pleasing to use than a fly-infested outdoor pit latrine, not to mention our milking cows who enjoy our large, grassy property and don’t have to wander around roadsides looking for enough to eat.
It was amazing how each person really ‘got’ what we were writing about, and 8-year-old Jason was the first one to volunteer his list once we were winding down. His list included about 50 things like: windows (more than just a carved-out hole in the wall as many in the world have), sinks (another thing many people don’t have), his towel, his wooden dresser, the great variety of food we have (even though we eat a base of rice and beans 2-3 times per day!), among many other common items we take for granted or even complain about because we compare them with someone who has more than we do.
From there three of our daughters, Darwin, and I shared our lists, all of which were basically the same even though each person wrote theirs individually: a shower (rather than bucket-bathing in the front yard as those in the village where I was had to do), dog food (rather than feeding emaciated dogs with watered-down rice scraps or pieces of tortilla that fall from the table), our kids’ art and music classes, my computer, a car, an electric stove, basically flat roads that can be easily traversed (rather than slippery, extremely steep, rocky trails as were those of the village where I was), real shoes (not just plastic flip-flops), enough ‘extra’ to even be able to share with and bless others, more than one candle (a home I stayed at in the village had but one candle on hand, and when it melted down we were left in darkness), and so on.
From there, each person meditating on all the incredibly simple, taken-for-granted items on their list, we read Philipians 4:12-13:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Suddenly, without having planned to do so, I folded up my list of abundance and held it over one of the many little flames that were around me. As my page of notebook paper caught fire, I sensed that several of our kids were exchanging glances with one another, eyes wide, like, “Cool! Mom’s burning things! … Does that mean I get to burn my list too? Whoa!”
I love moments like these, because there’s no traffic in my soul, nothing clogging up the Spirit of God or getting in the way of what the Lord might want to say or do through me. I (although it was not me at all) said, “This is our list of abundance; it is neither good nor bad. Paul says in his letter to the Phillipians that he knows what it is to live in abundance and in want, and in both situations he has discovered the secret of being content: Christ. So for right now – and we must recognize this – we are living in abundance. We may be tempted to look at those who have air conditioning or hot water or television or whatever it is that we don’t have and feel that we really don’t have much at all, but that’s simply not true. We have several toilets, paint on the walls, a refrigerator, everyone is in school, etc – but if some day all those things go away and we enter into ‘want,’ nothing really changes. If there is some world war or the economy crashes or our home catches fire and we are forced to move to a little shack with dirt floors and everything becomes really hard – who knows! – and our season of ‘abundance’ ends, nothing has really changed. All of the things on these lists can be taken away – or added to – and the Truth does not change, is not affected.”
So we burned our lists and a certain appropriate heaviness, the kind that comes with an undeniable understanding of Truth, settled over us and did not leave for several minutes.
“If the Word of God can be proclaimed and go forth in a remote, rocky village where there’s no running water, people bathe in a bucket in plain sight in their front yard, barely have enough calories to keep going and are in utter darkness once the sun sets, we do not need lightbulbs and art classes and pillow cases and doors that keep thieves out. If we are given them, fine. And if they’re taken away, fine; it’s all just abundance, and it’s not necessary for fulfilling God’s purposes or for finding ‘happiness.’ If we lose everything and are forced to hit the streets looking for a new beginning, nothing has really changed.”
From there we went to several other scriptures and meditated on the profundity of God’s love and jealousy for us, for our whole selves and our whole lives. I shared of my conviction to begin visiting homes in our own rural neighborhood perhaps a couple days per month to share God’s Word and pray with the people, and I asked who might be interested in accompanying me to do so. Everyone’s hands went up.
After closing with prayer, we blew out the candles, swept up the ash left behind by the bunt-up lists, turned on the lights with a flick of the switch, and each person went about their business to do homework, take a shower, go swing in a hammock or practice violin while that heavy, beautiful burden of understanding remained hovering over me like a weighty but welcome cloud as I prayed to God that I would never forget, or better yet that when and if the time comes that I would be able to humbly accept the Apostle Paul’s Words that ring with Truth: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.