What you may not know about L.M. Montgomery (author of the acclaimed Anne of Green Gables series) is that she was one of the most accomplished and published short story writers of her time. She wrote, in 1930, my favorite of her short stories, entitled “The Price” (published in the collected After Many Days). In this story, a flibbertigibbet named Christine believes that she has accidentally poisoned her beloved aunt through carelessness and self-indulgence. After inheriting all of her aunt’s vast wealth, Christine embarks on a journey of guilt-laden, secretive punishment. To this end, she engages only in activities she finds annoying, boring or abhorrent. One of these activities is to force herself to read her Bible daily.
Ah, but in engaging regularly with the Word of God, Christine finds something interesting: she has grown to love it. Montgomery writes:
“One month, eight years after [her aunt’s] death, she suffered from a slight but uncomfortable affection of the eyes, and she could not read at all. Then she discovered that she missed her Bible, that she had come to enjoy it. From that time she never opened her Bible again. . . . Yet, she had read through it so often that it had become part of her: its philosophy, its poetry, its drama, its ageless, incredible wisdom – of earth and of spirit, its unexampled range of colourful human nature were hers inalienably, permeating her soul and intellect.”
In the story, Christine never seems to find this sort of joy in most of her other acts of self-denial. The housecleaning she does by herself: nope. The ugly clothes she makes herself wear: uh-uh. Shutting herself off from the man she loves: no warm-fuzzies in that. Maybe after the Bible had “become a part of her,” she did find a measure of joy; the story does not say. She certainly changes over the span from the tragic beginning to the hopeful and happy end; and, I think, what started the real change was her submitting herself to spending time with God. What Ms. Montgomery captured so well is what every believer comes to know: you cannot encounter your Creator, especially with any regularity of practice, and not come away as the old song says, “filled with His goodness, lost in His love.” He is so completely what we need, that in seeking Him, we are never left unsatisfied. And He can come and redeem the time in unexpected ways or places.
This past May, I began to run regularly. The combination of a muffining top, doubling chin, and desire simply to wear the clothes I already had without lamentable “up-a-size” shopping trip finally roused me out of complacency and away from my pie and into running shoes. Here’s an open secret: I hate running. That runner’s high that my more enthusiastic pavement-pounding compadres rave about? Yeah, I don’t get that. I would bet that they were making it up, except for the fact that so many of them are good Christian women who would not engage in such blatant prevarication. So, there is good in running that I don’t get. The good that I do get is that my muffin top has melted away and I’m getting by with one chin and old clothes. Huzzah! But, you know, I almost did not get this far.
In the beginning, every day when I would run, I would look for something to take my mind off of the hideous fact that I was, well, running. I tried music, but the headphones kept falling off and out and driving me nuts. I tried chanting, but my chant tended toward the rather dark repetition of “I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.” Then, I tried to change my chant to “Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord.” But, it never took long for that to regress to the former. So, there I was: doing my best to keep to a benign, yet loathsome, physical activity and failing utterly to find a way to keep motivated. So, I started arguing with God.
It probably started with something like, “Why, God? Why do you make the best foods so full of calories and the healthiest foods so comparatively blah? And why can’t I just be one of those fortunate few on whom pounds find no sticking place? Huh?” What bad prayers! The Bible doesn’t tell us only to pray good prayers, though. God wants us, ideally, to pray without ceasing. Because we are bad people, we will pray bad prayers; but, our good God can surely separate wheat from chaff here as elsewhere. And He wants us to come to Him regardless. I am sure that my first running prayers were grouchy, complaining ones. But, they did not stay that way.
It really did not take long for me to run out of steam with my arguing. One of my favorite Rich Mullins songs has a line: you can argue with your Maker, but you know that you just can’t win. Amen! Soon, the other, better prayers started pouring forth. Hopes, fears, dreams, worries, expressions of gratitude, tears of repentance, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . . the time started to fly! I was running three, four, five, ten miles and loving it. Not the running, mind you, but the time with my beautiful Savior. Unexpected.
I have always loved to pray; but, like so many, I get distracted easily at home. Every time, it seems, that I set aside a good chunk of knees-on-the-ground time, my prayers will early on be interrupted by my racing thoughts -- usually a memory of something I had read that would totally back up what I was saying in prayer; so, I will stop praying and go try to find the book or magazine, because, as we all know, God totally needs proper citation when you’re by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, letting your requests be made known to Him. Oh, I frustrate myself mightily with my lack of discipline! “Squirrel!” It’s different when I run. Nothing can distract me from taking everything to Him, and take it I do. And it has become such a part of my life now that I do not know how I would go on without this almost daily returning to companionship with my truest Friend.
And that is why I have always loved “The Price.” It rings true. Every time I have done what Christine did and simply made space and time to immerse myself in the Spirit of the Living God – whether by reading His word, serving His people, or fellowshipping with Him in prayer – I have been met anew and surprised again by His manifold goodness. It really does not matter how rebellious my heart is in the beginning. He will turn it around. I, who have expended so much time over the years trying to be filled with pie, always find that I am best fed when in His company. It is still, after all these years, unexpected. By why should it be? Is not the truth of what I’ve found written on every page of our Bible – that fountain of ageless wisdom that becomes ours inalienably, permeating our souls and intellect? It is imprinted, indeed, on every verse as surely as in every heart that seeks His face.