Why I Didn’t Want to Share with My Mother-in-law: The Deeper Stories Behind Our Whining

Sam Van Eman loves to learn. Even through his mid-life transition, he wanted to know what God might have in store for him. He receives both the blessings and the challenges as gifts and, with transparency, shares both with others. I say both because this is his ministry—inviting people into intentionally designed experienced that disrupt routine for the sake of growth in Christ. He does it playfully, creatively, and honestly, while practicing what he preaches. I’ve been in the room with Sam and you discover this within minutes. It’s a grace to welcome Sam to the farm’s front porch today…

guest post by Sam Van Eman

I heard my mother-in-law’s voice downstairs.

As I entered the kitchen, I saw a dozen freshly baked pumpkin chocolate chip scones cooling on the table.

The room smelled like every room should in the fall. And those scones were all ours.

But my wife’s mom had stopped by, and Julie was quick to say that she had been baking and, “Here, you should take a couple for you and Dad.”

I love my mother-in-law, but my gut tightened at the offer, so I passed through the room.

A few minutes later I glanced at the container in my mother-in-law’s hand. I even had to steal another look because I wasn’t able to get an accurate count of the scones inside. As my family saw her out the back door, I peeked again!

She’s a lovely woman. Easy to be around, the kind of person who makes you believe you’re her best friend.

She bakes a special cake for me at Christmas, just because she knows I like it.

But the second I closed the door, I asked Julie why she had given away three, not two, scones. It came out in a lighthearted, passive-aggressive way, matching (superficially, at least) the mood of the house at the moment: singing children, dinner on its way to the table, and the lingering smell of the remaining scones.

“Mom is having somebody over tonight,” she replied.

I concentrated on the little twist in my stomach and tried to assess how to be generous while also honest about my disappointment. I couldn’t think of anything mature, so we sat down at the table.

I began to pray, “Lord, thank you for this food and all that You provide—” and then, like a good boy, I inserted, “and please help me to be generous.”

I couldn’t continue. I blurted to the family, “I don’t actually want to pray that!”

The girls laughed in surprise, and I continued, “I don’t feel generous right now, and I don’t even want to be generous. And here’s the irony:

I came down the steps thinking about Emma’s new braces and how we’ll have to cut back in order to pay for them and how we should talk at dinner about seeing this as an opportunity to bless Emma because that’s what families do—we sacrifice for each other. And then you went ahead and gave away the scones. Our scones. My scones! I felt so generous and in a flash so not generous.”

Yes, I was whining.

“When you gave your mom that twenty dollars a few minutes ago for your half of the wedding shower gift, I didn’t bat an eye. But the scones—why did that make me angry?”

Julie thought for a moment and replied, “It probably has to do with your snack panic.”

The girls laughed again, because they know my habit of keeping a snack nearby, especially when I travel.

It’s a security blanket, and it goes back to my childhood, when I didn’t have enough to eat.

I won’t begrudge God of what He provided and how that provision came to us. But I always wanted more.

As a teenager, growing tall and playing sports, I could have only half a bowl of cereal for breakfast. It wasn’t my own mom’s fault. She was raising four of us by herself, and we often wondered how food would find our cupboards.

So I developed more than a simple snack panic all those years ago.

The anger at the table was about the lingering fear that something special, something extra, something beyond what the old WIC check allowed was disappearing before I could enjoy it.

In a sense, I couldn’t afford to be generous, because in the formative years of eight and ten and thirteen, money may have been my mom’s issue, but what the money couldn’t buy was my issue.

And this night, because of a few scones, it came back.

Full cupboards, a secure job, an intact family, and still, buried beneath piety and the appearance of Christian charity, I snarled at someone I love.

These wounds and fears, they haunt us.

When Jesus invited the rich young ruler to follow Him, He wasn’t asking for something impossible (Luke 18:22). But it felt impossible to that guy.

In hindsight, I’m thankful for these raw moments. They serve as alarm clocks, as reminders of immaturity, as disruptions of routine.

And they help uncover the taken-for-granted assumptions and limitations in that routine.

We live by a mix of faithlessness and faith.

We feel hopeless and hopeful simultaneously.

We refuse love and yet also extend it in one breath.

We’ve got enough of the good to make us okay with the bad. Life is like this: vibrancy and stagnancy, renewal and atrophy, all sharing the same space.

Gregg Ten Elshof writes, “We can’t bring ourselves to say that we have no intention to make significant and noticeable progress toward Christlikeness. But neither do we find ourselves simply doing the things of Jesus.”

Kindness and claws sharing the same space.

How do I name what I cannot see—or cannot see clearly? Do I need someone to take what’s valuable to me in order to confront my conditional love? Maybe.

However small the portion of faith, hope, and love we discover, we recognize it as a gift from God.

Imagine what can happen when we acknowledge the ways this gift has been underused and also confess the ways it has been misused!

Am I willing to trust Him to provide?

Will I let Him unpry my hands from the thing I love but that also keeps me bound?

Can I learn to see these moments of fear as opportunities to grow in faith?

If yes, then bring it on, Lord.

Help me to give my scones away.

 

 

Sam Van Eman and his wife, Julie, live in central Pennsylvania with their two daughters. He serves as a resource specialist for the CCO’s Experiential Designs team, where he cocreates transformational experiences for college students, small groups, professionals, and organizations.

Sam’s new book, Disruptive Discipleship: The Power of Breaking Routine to Kickstart Your Faith, is a practical, story-driven reminder that we can’t afford to stay at our current maturity level, and that, with courage, we can create space for God to grow us in faith, hope, and love. 

Filled with concrete examples of how ordinary people are shaped by disruptive experiences, this book provides a path to deeper faith on purpose. Jesus disrupted His disciples with invitations to get out of their boats, leave their nets, and follow Him. Pick up this book and have courage to discover what those kinds of disruptions might look like for you.

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