I love a fresh start. Each year I find many occasions that lend themselves to this feeling of “everything is new again!” such as the New Year in January and the start of a new school year in September. In December 2020 I was ready and eager for 2021, when I happened to spy a Facebook ad for a ‘Bible in a Year’ podcast from Ascension Presents. “What a lovely idea!” I thought. I dutifully printed out the reading plan and waited for January 1, assuming I’d likely be the only person I knew that was listening.
Oh, dear reader, how wrong I was. The ‘Bible in a Year’ podcast, featuring the charismatic and enthusiastic Fr. Mike Schmitz, has been an absolute blockbuster. It debuted at #1 on Apple Podcasts, (and that’s #1 of ALL podcasts, my friends, not just in the Christianity category), and has stayed consistently in the top 20 ever since. People are reading the Bible that have never made it past the book of Genesis in the past, and it is beautiful to see.
And so I begin listening to the podcast on January 1, full of optimism but also a bit of hubris. These early books will be easy peasy, I thought. I’ve read them before. Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, yadda yadda.
In episode 2, the podcast covers The Fall. In an initial read, it’s hard not to see God’s banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden as punishment from an angry Old Testament God. Mankind’s subsequent pain and struggle associated with work and bringing forth life seems harsh for sneaking a bite of forbidden fruit, doesn’t it? This is how I’d always interpreted this allegory, along with a more mature understanding, as an adult, that Adam and Eve’s true sin wasn’t eating something God forbade, it was their abandonment of trusting Him. And then Fr. Mike hit me over the head with one of those oversized anvils that take out Wile E. Coyote.
This was the beginning of my awakening to the radicalness of God’s love for His people. For ME. To willingly belong to someone is extraordinarily intimate, and requires a vulnerability that, truthfully, I’ve always struggled with. It was easier for me to imagine God as a vague, powerful being; to imagine Jesus’ miracles and mercy in a sort of beige “love your neighbors” sort of way. This idea of belonging tremendously challenged me. As a result, I’ve embarked upon 2021 feeling as though my faith life, which has always been relatively strong, has up-leveled. The ‘Bible in a Year’ podcast has unlocked scripture for me and it has changed everything about how I approach my faith.
If God loves us this much, then how can we begin to return that love? It’s an impossible level to measure up to, of course, but how do we live our lives in a spirit of truly being God’s children? After Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden, Eve bears (and painfully labors, as a result of The Fall) two children, Cain and Abel. As they grow older, the two brothers begin making their regular offerings to God, but one brother seems to gain God’s favor over the other. Fr. Mike suggests that God accepted Abel’s offering of firstlings from his flock and rejected Cain’s offering from his harvest not because God is secretly carnivorous, but because Abel gave God his first and best work.
To put this perspective of our lives, in what ways are we giving God whatever is left in our days? How often we realize we haven’t prayed today, or this week, or this year because we were “too busy.” Many a time has my prayer fallen by the wayside because I had planned to sneak a rosary in before bedtime but then fell asleep, or because I was waiting for the perfectly quiet moment (which never came) in which to say Morning Prayer. Our lives are measured by the way we live our days, and our days are too often full of other priorities and idols of the modern world. We make time for what is important to us, so what does that say about the time we make for God each day?
One small way I’ve been striving towards giving God my first fruits lately is by getting up before my children (a real cross to bear for this night owl), lighting a candle, and praying the Morning Offering. I’ve never started my days immediately connecting with God, and this small act has been a game changer for the time that I make for Him daily. I am on fire with love for God, a state which I find both exhilarating and deeply unsettling. Who is this woman I’m becoming? The jury is still out on that one, but I trust God’s will for my life in a way I had not thought was possible.
How can you give God your first fruits today?