“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”
-Matthew 6”2-4 (MSG)
The news is awful these days, full of police shootings, presidential candidates cannibalizing each other’s character, and reports on terror. And here we all are, in our singular lives, stretching ourselves between the knowledge that eight decades of breath is like nothing at all and yet also something brilliant and beautiful.
Sometimes I roam the rows of bookstores and run my fingers along the spines of the books resting on the shelves. All those words, all those stories, some that have lasted generations. Could Plato and Bronte and Hemingway and Marquez and Augustine ever have imagined the way their voices would survive wars and fires and revolutions and the rise of technology as lord over all?
Science, government, and innovation seek answers to every human need, but it is art that often meets our deepest longing. Color and story change the soul, and the changed soul bears the potential to transform the world bit by bit, pixel by pixel. We simply must refuse to get too comfortable.
Tiny seeds grow into grand trees. A small pebble makes waves across a sprawling lake. These metaphors give hope to me for my life as a woman of average intellect, decent talent, and acceptable ambition.
And yet many days I don’t seem to be making progress.
My sons ask me incredible questions that open up the whole soul of mankind: “Mom, why does war exist?”, “Why does the color of someone’s skin affect other people that way?”, “Why don’t we take better care of each other?”. I feel immensely proud of them for their noble curiosity.
But then their own humanity betrays them when they fight over who will get in the car first, and fists fly and war is waged and reconciliation feels impossible for us all.
The world is full of hungry, hurting people. So is my little house. How can one life do anything about a need so deep and wide? This tension is the core essence of motherhood, ministry, and basic gospel living.
Because of the gospel, there is space in my soul for every conflict we face in our culture. I can carry our hopeful church, my fragile marriage, my laughing/fighting/aching children, and the heavy weight of a hurting world. I can carry my dreams for the future and my failures from the past. I can carry my questions for God that no one seems to be able to understand and my trust in Him and His goodness. I don’t have to know or understand all that is happening in my life or in the world in order to walk with Joy and Grace and Love and Freedom. There is space in God for all of it, and so there is space in me as well.
Our God is vast and endless, and He has made room for us, with all our good intentions, great acts of love, and miserable failures. He asks only that we elevate our longing for justice and mercy above our propensity for selfish ambition.
I wonder if there will bookshelves in eternity with rows and rows of stories that will never make the news here on earth. All the hidden acts of love will be on display for us. The stories would seem like small offerings here in life, but God’s reward is saved up for the faithful ones who, in a million tiny ways, never quit loving Him best of all. There will be tales of fathers who built safe places for their children to lie down in peace, of wives who forgave the deepest offenses, of sisters and brothers who carried one another’s pain, and of children who loved their mamas when they were too weak to lead well.
And there on one of the shelves, you may find your own story of mercy and grace; scrawled out by God’s own hand will be all the days you chose to love someone who needed more than you could give.
I pray we will be brave and take the low place, walk the narrow path, carry the aching burden, set our eyes on things unseen, and climb the mountain to seek His presence. Maybe wars, racism, attacks, cruel public figures, and all the broken hearts around can become prompts for us to write a different story with our lives.
Since the reward is hidden, it’s hard to know for sure. But living any other way seems like giving up.