Years ago, when my family lived in that place we still lovingly refer to as “the far East,” I would occasionally make the one-hour trip north to Chesapeake, VA, to buy bulk portions of food and family necessities. We believed our two older boys were big enough to participate in the process of offloading our purchases from the car and to put them away in the house. Looking back, I’m not sure it was fair to ask it of them (they were still pretty small). They would dutifully come down the stairs of the porch, though, to join me at the car and receive something to carry into the house and back to the kitchen. It actually took longer than doing it myself, but Jeanell said it was “worth it” to teach them responsibility and family participation. She was right, of course. She’s always right.
It was interesting, often humorous, and sometimes a little hair-raising to invite them into the process. After all, none of the purchases were cheap or dispensable. If they were dropped or mishandled, the cargo might be lost. Since the cargo was purchased at a warehouse club, it might be a big loss – and a big mess!
I gave our oldest of particularly heavy flat of canned vegetables. When I placed it in his hands, he looked at me with distress. “This is too heavy,” his eyes told me. “You need to give it a try, or you will not be able to play Angry Birds later,” my eyes told him. And try he did. He lumbered two or three steps, grunted, and set the package down unceremoniously. He began to push it along the brick walk, then walked to the front and pulled it a few more paces.
Things were going slowly but well, until he reached the stairs. I could see the wheels turning in his mind as he calculated the challenge of getting that load to the top of the hill. He tipped it up, pulled, grunted and strained. After a little while, I joined him and placed the flat back in his hands. He smiled briefly, but then feeling the full weight, grunted his dismay that he would not make it up the stairs. Instead of relieving his burden, I thought it best (and actually a little more fun) to pick him up, and carried him with the load into the kitchen. We laughed as he set it down. He made it…with a little help.
We have an uneasy relationship to our dependence, and I believe it makes our relationship to God awfully complicated. We remember in Scripture how Jesus begins his ministry journey with 40 days in the wilderness, a time he could not hide his dependence upon God. He would not face his test alone, and shows us the sort of relationship that celebrates the ways God goes to work in us when we risk being vulnerable before God.
On February 22, the church will enter the season of Lent, a traditional time of preparation for Easter. In Lent, Christians are invited to take an inventory of our lives and to consider how God might want to continue working your life into what you were made to be all along. We look at our material lives and ask how our consumption masks a deeper hunger. We examine our spiritual lives and ask what barriers exist between us and a fuller communion with God. We assess our relationships in family, church and community and ask what fences need mending. In so many ways, we have tried to cover up or evade our need for that which we cannot give ourselves.
As we reckon with our dependence in our own wilderness, the good news is, in the words of Deuteronomy (words actually uttered in the wilderness), and echoed in Hebrews 13, words from God’s own heart: “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.”
Like that poem about footprints in the sand, we sometimes experience the unmistakable grace of God carrying us in hard times. At other points, we experience the unmistakable grace of God authorizing and empowering us to work our way through with the resources and wisdom and people God’s placed in our lives and hearts.
Sometimes we need to hear, “I got you!” and sometimes we need to hear, “You can make it!” Though distinctly different experiences, they are part of the same story. The story of a God whose love is so great, so strong that nothing in all of creation can separate us from it. Never forget that. Lean on that. Depend on that. And give thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,