The receipt was gone. The one documenting a rather expensive purchase I had made at the drugstore. The one I needed to return that purchase, which was over $50. I looked everywhere for it. Nada. And I distinctly remembered, much to my frustration, putting it somewhere “special” so I’d be able to locate it later should I need to. (This strategy fails more times than it succeeds, so why do I keep trying it?)
I hate to say it, but this little mishap sucked up more of my emotional energy than it should have, like a malignant worm burrowing into my brain. Truth be told, I felt more than just annoyance concerning the lost receipt. I felt guilt. Why? Because the purchase wasn’t something that I had strictly needed. More accurately, it was something that I had wanted, and now that I was in the throes of buyer’s remorse I couldn’t simply make the mistake go away like it had never happened.
How many times do my best efforts to make things easy for myself end up having the opposite effect? Even more concerning: how many times do my efforts to make myself happy by some quick fix inevitably fail? There’s a reason why the display shelves in the checkout lines are lined with “impulse items” and why so many of us buy self-help books promising change in just a few “easy steps.”
On the up side, you could say it’s because we’re proactive, entrepreneurial go-getters who reject passivity and want to live life hard. In my neck of the United States we call that drive the Yankee spirit, and with some pride. After all, it takes gumption and perseverance to pursue life, liberty and happiness in a world that can be tough and unyielding. One song by the Indigo Girls says it like this: “Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.”
On the flip side of all that rugged individualism, however, lurks something darker. The desire to be our own little gods, to control the ins and outs of our existence completely, down to the last detail. That would be okay if we weren’t the short-sighted, impetuous, self-absorbed creatures that we so often prove to be, according to any Greek, Shakespearean, or Biblical tragedy you care to check. And then there’s the added complication of how our choices, big and small, affect the lives of those around us, usually in ways we can neither predict nor contain.
Left unchecked, my choices ultimately would lead to utter mayhem, no matter how reasonable they might seem in the moment. But what’s the alternative? I cannot simply cede responsibility for my life to another, nor ignore the fact that I am confronted by important decisions every hour, sometimes every minute. (Note: raising children, especially those with special needs, underscores this point. Scarcely have you responded to one demand when two more take its place).
I think for me, it all comes down to how I frame my responses to the world around me. I do best when I see my life as a collaborative effort between the real Ruler of the universe and myself, a being who bears an uncanny resemblance to her Creator (if you squint hard enough) and has been designed to partner with Him on vital endeavors.
Partners talk. Partners check in. Partners formulate a division of labor in which each person focuses on their part and leaves what is not theirs to the other. Partners trust each other, which makes me wonder whether it is as hard for God to trust me with things (i.e. relationships, resources, the welfare of my fellow human beings) as it is for me to trust Him with matters as trivial as receipts. Maybe the next time that vein starts popping out of my forehead Barney Fife style, I should remember: I’m not in this alone. I exercise a certain amount of freedom as to how I will spend my time, money, and energy because it has been given to me. Like an allowance. By Someone who believes I have the ability to get where I need to go (however imperfectly) if I cooperate with Him.
I’m going to try praying like I’ve been appointed VP to the Almighty President. Someone with whom He doesn’t sweat the small stuff because He knows He can rely on her for the bigger stuff. Maybe from this more relaxed vantage point I will be able to discern whether it’s okay for me to reach for that thing in front of me that I want. Sometimes the answer will be yes, sometimes no. And when I mess up I can always say: sorry, Boss. I’ll do better next time. Show me what I missed.
By the way, I found the receipt days after I had made the return at the drugstore for a store credit (which I promptly used on other necessities). It had been carefully folded and put into a pocket of my purse. I had been carrying it hither and yon, unaware. What I needed, had stressed over so badly, was with me the whole time.
What I need now is more faith that God is always working with me—happily, unreservedly, confidently—because He knows who and what I am better than I do myself. He’s in it for the long haul, the great reward, the eternal benefit. I want that perspective too, to know that I already have what I need as I walk alongside the One whose image I bear and whose voice I will hear if I pause to listen. And the more I listen, the better I will get at picking out His voice from all the others, at hearing His words when He whispers. Even infants learn to do that with their parent, and that suggests that so can I.
I’ll report on how this experiment goes, and also on how much simpler life becomes once I learn to choose “email my receipt to me” when I go shopping. Thus far I have balked when presented with that particular option, even though it would save me tons of grief. But that’s a whole other post 😊.