Sometimes things seem overwhelming. Sometimes we become so used to relying on other people that we don’t see the options until we are forced to be in a leadership position. We don’t know our strength and our gifts until they are called on. We sometimes take the easy way out and don’t even see options unless we are the only ones who can.
I remember a time when my youngest child, Aislynn was just a baby of about 6 months old, Jonah, my son was 2 and my eldest daughter was 5. I would not have been winning any parenting awards on that day, and at one point I even considered shipping off at least one of my lovely three children to someone who I knew would be much better capable of managing what I came to think of as my own personal monkey cage. I had to come expect help from my husband on Fridays, but this particular Friday I was completely on my own all day. The kids had been in rare form; all demanding things in temper tantrum format all afternoon. By 7:00 I was a stressed out mess. With Aislynn in a bouncy chair, and Jasmyn in the shower, I was trying to get Jonah dressed for bed. But when I tried to put his pajama top over his head I was greeted with yet another temper tantrum. He would not tell me what he wanted, but instead ripped the shirt off and started to scream at the top of his lungs. At that moment, Jasmyn called me to help her wash her hair and Aislynn decided this was the perfect moment to put in her two cents as well and she started crying like there was no tomorrow. I explained to Jonah that if he was going to fight me I couldn’t help him, I left him in his room, went and picked up Aislynn who continued to scream, took her into the bathroom with me to help Jasmyn with her hair and tried to take a deep breath. When Jonah came running into the bathroom after me, it was all I could do to not snap his head off with a “What is it now, Jonah?” But instead of crying, or screaming, my two year old boy walked up to me, wrapped his arms around my legs and with a look of deep compassion said very simply, “I’m sorry I was fighting with you, Mama.” In that moment I saw him again - my little, caring, sweet boy who needed my attention, who needed my love. Yes, I could give it. I had reserves that I didn’t even know I had just for him just for then.
Still, that was one day. For the last 6 years, as you know, I’ve been the single mom of these three children every day. And not only do I manage to have the energy to do it, but I usually enjoy my time with my kids and even manage to laugh and play with them regularly. I didn’t know I could. But we can often do more than we think we can.
After I graduated from seminary, I interviewed with a church in AZ to become their associate pastor. A member of the nominating committee, as well as their senior pastor, came up to meet me and spend some time with me to see if it would be a good fit. They were planning to spend the night at the seminary and had made arrangements to do so, but when they got to their room, they discovered that the door was locked and they could not get in. I think before this situation had arisen, I probably would have been one of the people made helpless by this. “What are we going to do? The office is closed. There won’t be anyone there. It’s late at night. I can’t wake anyone up. What are we going to do?” But I was in the midst of an interview. And somehow I knew that this un-premeditated test was going to either make or break the interview for me. So I took a breath and did some quick thinking. I was house sitting at the time at a home with no extra bedrooms. But I thought of the student who I knew worked in the housing office and who might be able to help us. This was pre-cell phone days and I didn’t have his phone number, but I did know where he lived. So we walked over to his house, found he was not yet asleep and that he could help us, and together we were able to settle the two men into their dorm rooms. I was offered the job. But more than that, I learned that day that I could do more than I thought I could.
In the movie, “The Family Man,” the main character, Jack was given the opportunity to see what his life would have been if he had chosen a different path at a critical juncture. At one point he met the man who in his real life worked under Jack and who, in this glimpse of a life that might have been, was now the boss. What Jack found was that the same man, in different positions, with different levels of authority, behaved very differently, acted very differently, held himself differently. When he was the boss, he was powerful and could make decisions and saw things clearly. But when he was second in command, he was not capable of making decisions, but deferred to Jack in everything, at times even whining with a “what are we going to do?” kind of behavior of helplessness.
What are we capable of? What are we really made of? What can we do if we have to, if we are forced to, if we must?
All of these situations remind me of the disciples response to the situation described in today’s gospel lesson. The disciples don’t know what to do with all these hungry people and they can’t seem to think on their own. They want Jesus to fix it. They want Jesus to send everyone away so they won’t have to deal with them. But Jesus challenges them to think and to take charge. “No,” he says, “you feed them.” But still, they don’t want to take on this leadership role, they don’t want to think, they don’t want to use the gifts God has given them. So at that point they become whiney, “But we only have 5 loaves and 2 fish!” they protest. They choose not to think for themselves, or to act in this situation. I can just imagine Jesus giving a heavy sigh of frustration as he takes the food from them. He does his miracle. He shows them a different way of being, one that involves trusting God to provide and “acting as if” until the things that are needed become more than just something to be hoped for, but actual realities. He shows them that their faith is stronger than they can imagine, and their abilities to rise to any occasion are deeper than they know.
But do they get it? Do they then become the people God calls them to be, or do they just continue to look to Jesus to always fix it for them and make things better and stronger? They continue to rely on Jesus until Jesus is finally gone. But they have him as a model and when he does leave them, they finally do find their strength and are able to continue to serve God and proclaim Jesus’ Good News to all the people, despite personal danger, despite their human weaknesses.
We are called, like the disciples, like all of God’s people, to be the best, most whole, most faithful and most God-led people we can be. We are called to feed God’s people and to heal God’s people and to tell the good news of God’s love and grace. We are called to stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the displaced: to stand up for them and make a better life for them. But we get stuck in our “I can’t” thinking, and this is dangerous for all of us. It is also unfaithful.
Hildegaard de Bingen once said: “A divine voice spoke to me, saying, ‘How fragile you are, Human, made of dust and grime, but I am the living Light. I make the darkness day, and I have chosen you to see great wonders, though I have humbled you on earth. You are often depressed and timid, and insecure. Because you are conscientious, you feel guilty, and chronic physical pain has thoroughly scarred you. But the deep mysteries of God have saturated you, too, and so has humility.’ When I heard the Voice, I began trying to live a godly life. The path became difficult as I questioned myself again, saying, ‘This is pointless.’ I wanted to soar. I dreamed impossible dreams and started projects I could never finish. I became dejected, so I sat and did nothing. My self-doubt is my greatest disobedience. It makes me miserable, and I struggle with this cross daily. But God is by my side, reminding me that he created me. So, even in the middle of my depression, I walk with wise patience over the marrow and blood of my body. I am the lion defending itself from a snake, roaring and knocking it back into its hole. I will never let myself give in to the devil's arrows.”
Marianne Williamson said it this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
God calls us to be whole, and to serve out of the gifts we are given. Let us strive to follow God to the fullest that we might be the most whole People God calls us to be.
I want to end today by sharing with you a prayer called the Knots prayer:
The Knots Prayer
Dear God, please untie the knots that are in my mind,
My heart and my life.
Remove the have nots,
The can nots and the do nots
That I have in my mind.
Erase the will nots,
Might nots that may find
A home in my heart.
Release me from the could nots,
Would nots and
Should nots that obstruct my life.
And most of all,
I ask that you remove from my mind,
My heart and my life all of the “am nots”
That I have allowed to hold me back,
Especially the thought
That I am not good enough.