Week before last a friend asked how she could pray specifically for me and I gave her a list of 26 things that were occupying space in my head and heart.
As the list grew, I thought, “You know, this is a lot of things!” When someone asks what they are can pray for you about, generally they are expecting maybe 2 or 3 things tops. Not 26 things. And if I’m honest, the last things was a sort of summation of all the things that I hadn’t listed yet, but was starting to get scared that I’d never be able to stop listing prayer concerns.
A few days later I found myself in tears over those 26 things, plus more that I hadn’t laid there for that dear patient friend. Kermit tried his best to comfort me, but his attempts were getting neither of us anywhere and eventually he just fell silent and listened as I listed all the things that I could do nothing about. About just how powerless that made me feel. It was incredibly cathartic.
There is great comfort in that story about the man who throws starfish back to the sea one at a time and cheerily says “Made a difference to that one!” But after a tsunami hits and every starfish in the sea is on the beach alongside the most horrific sea monsters of the deep that we didn’t know existed, and those are only the decoration in front of the wreckage of homes and lives and families torn apart, that story doesn’t really feel like it has the same impact. And while the tsunami wasn’t hitting me, it seemed like everywhere I turned, be it family, friend, coworker, acquaintance or just flipping on the news, starfish were raining down.
I wanted to close my eyes to it. I wanted to not feel the hurts of those around me. I wanted to run away. What was I thinking, signing up for decades of ministry? What is ministry if not a constant barrage of starfish?
A few nights later, I had this world shifting conversation with God. In this tone of voice like I had brand new information for him, I told Him I couldn’t look at it anymore. The brokenness of the world just broke my heart. And He replied, “Yeah, it breaks mine, too.” Then a pause for me to hear what He said, followed by “And I didn’t close my eyes and I didn’t run away.”
Oh. There I had allowance to say I’m not ok with the things people do to one another. I am not ok with sickness and injury. I am not ok with Columbine today any more than I was nearly 20 years ago. I’m not ok with comfortable blindness which allows us to ignore our fellow man, be they at close at hand or on the other side of the world. I’m not ok with it.
Understanding that He is not ok with it either, oh, it changed my perspective. So I could go out and pick up a starfish and fling it. And another. And another. As much as I was asked to do for those 26 things, no more and no less, I did them. I didn’t like that there was so much debris on my beach, but I could at least see a place to put my feet down for a second. I could breath again.
As I inhaled and exhaled I watched the flick of my wrist and the arc of the little creature. Sometimes I thought it was a good throw and on other occasions I started to think, well, I could have done that better. I could have had a better attitude. I could have smiled more. I could have at least kept my mouth shut. My brain and body were sore from being intentional and accountable all the time. I started to worry what others thought of how I threw starfish. Those little nags were enough to make me uncomfortable.
Just in time. Just in time I was given a penny for my thoughts and received a wealth of kindness in return. I can’t put down a clip of the best words or the most meaningful exchange, but through reflection and remembrance and the counsel of someone who is well beyond where I am, this is what I walked away with.
Caring about people is hard. The stories of hurt and brokenness don’t stop, they become novels and series and volumes and libraries. We do what I already know to do with them, file them on His shelves and trust Him to use His pen to work these things out.
But the process is hard work. And in the process of doing the right thing, of helping people to the cross and then allowing them to cling and cry to Him instead of us, turning to walk back down the road to find the next person and the next and the next, you can find yourself at times feeling lonely. And hurt. And sad.
What I heard was this person I respected admit that they’d felt hurt. They’d felt lonely. They’d made hard choices that they knew hurt feelings, but were the right choices.
What I heard was Sarah, you don’t have to try to be too holy to be hurt. You need to be smart and aware. You need to learn from each story for the next. But being sad, getting your feelings hurt, having emotions that wouldn’t fit with the perky pastoral portrait, it isn’t a sin. It’s just saying that there is stuff you need Christ for, too.
In this morning’s sermon, I heard the retell of Peter telling Jesus “Not I, Jesus! I will never fall away! Even if everyone else runs, I never will!” Oh there I stood a few weeks ago, declaring, “All the starfish in the world may lie at my feet and I will throw them all back in His power and will show the world I can do it with a right mind and a smile!” Because, what would I be saying about God if I felt bad that the creature was there in the first place? What would I be saying about God if someone knew I cried about starfish?
This is what it would say. We need a big big God. We need Him because as much as we hate children being shot and cancer and abuse that carries on in the lives of children while services designed to defend them ignore it for generations…….He hates it more. We can’t fathom the disdain He feels for the depth of our shattered existences.
It would also say this. I need a big big God. Because even while I claim this holiness life, I need His grace so badly. Holiness is no release from grace. It only shows where His grace can go deeper.
At best some days I am just a big ol mess, and it was an encouragement for me this week to hear someone else that I respect admit that they need Him, too. I don’t want to minimize the power He has to change people and grow people and heal and restore people. I just need to go on record and say this…
I am not done yet.
And that is just my need of Him, a need He is ready and able to meet.
Just like all those other starfish. Just like the ugly monster from the depths of the sea.
I need grace, too.