It was a late, hot, and humid night during my summer as an intern with InterVarsity’s Urban Project in St. Louis. I was in the kitchen when our director, Gerry, (a man who became like a spiritual father to me) stepped in.
Gerry is naturally very fatherly to many people. He asked me how things were going. I had sort of a traumatic experience at the start of the internship and had wanted to quit the experience afterwards but chose to stay. We talked for a bit on how I was doing since then.
He got to talking about how his affections for us interns were of that of a father and sharing about his favorite moments with his own biological daughter. Throughout his eldest daughter’s childhood, he cherished the times when he just got to “hold her awhile”. Gerry said even on her wedding day, he asked to hold her for awhile before he gave his baby away. He put his arm around me and gave me his signature sloppy, wet, stubbly kiss on the forehead. “I’d like to just hold you awhile, if that’s ok” he said to me.
I treasure Gerry’s relationship with me. My father was never physically affectionate nor have we ever had a close relationship. So the way I relate to male authority figures is a bit strange and Gerry’s handling of our relationship should’ve (at least I would’ve expected) been uncomfortable to me but that night, I just felt like a truly cherished daughter. I’ll never forget that night… wasting time with my “Dad” and letting him hold me for awhile.
“When was the last time you wasted time with God?” -Calisto Odede at Urbana 2012
When was the last time I wasted time letting God’s presence hold me for awhile?
It’s a thing that I have to choose into. That kind of intimacy, security, and safety I found under Gerry’s arm that night is something I’ve yet to really get used to. But I’m thankful for the tangible taste it gave me of the unconditional loving embrace of our Heavenly Father. And the good news is our Abba Father is always asking, “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to hold you awhile.”
It might sound counter-intuitive but it’s hard to say yes to sometimes. Unfortunately, I think that’s the case for many of us who’ve never felt truly cherished. It’s scary. It doesn’t come as natural to us. But could I encourage you today, as I encourage myself, let Him hold you awhile tonight.
My dog occasionally has this problem with his hind leg. Not sure what it is though I’ve done some internet research that suggests perhaps it’s a condition called luxating patella, which is common with chihuahuas.
The reason why we haven’t brought him to a vet is because it happens rarely and he’s always fine after he relaxes. But still, seeing him hobble around so scared as to what’s happening with his legs (so much so he’ll pee where he stands) never fails to break my heart. He’s usually back to normal within a couple of minutes but I still despair in that short amount of time.
Tonight, I feel especially heart-broken to sit by and watch him hobble around scared. When he started limping, I knew it was the same little leg spaz that would go away soon. But I couldn’t help but follow him around nervously, fretting over his situation.
The worst of it all is that I want to do something to comfort him. He looked so miserable and scared. He limped around in circles sometimes stopping to look up at me almost as if he was looking to me to do something. But holding him seems to make it hurt even more. There’s something in my not-being-able-to-do-something that wrecks me so much. The fact that he can’t advocate for himself the way a human can. The fact that the most I can do is stand idly by, futilely trying to convey my love and caring presence to him.. to no avail.
I’ve been reading the book Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin. It’s a memoir about Mother Teresa. Critics of Mother Teresa (hard to imagine that people actually had criticisms about her) often pointed out that her approach to poverty was misguided or that what she was doing was unproductive. Sort of along the lines of, “why are you feeding the poor directly instead of “teaching a man how to fish”.
The book has been teaching me faithfulness to the small things and redefining what I think is meaningful or productive. As her famous saying goes, “small things with great love.” Feeding the poor directly or caring for their immediate and specific needs may seem, in the long run, “unproductive” but in Matthew 25, Jesus claims these small things not only loving acts to the person but to Him personally.
I find this to be troubling. Troubling because I like to know that my efforts are productive. Troubling because it’s exactly the kind of faith Christianity demands: faith despite what isn’t seen: the immediate fruit of my work. Trust in His sovereignty in the midst of very real suffering.
I’m troubled because I want to feel like I have some control over suffering in this world. The delusion that I could control suffering around me was comforting because it sort of temporarily pacified that chaos I felt within. Because accepting reality is to acknowledge that life is completely and utterly out of my control and when I’m being real with myself, I’m not ok with that at all. So I relentlessly seek control without being conscious of it.
Tonight, Grace takes the form of a little puppy dog with a shotty back leg to show me my powerlessness. To show me just how deep my broken need to be able to fix everything runs. That it’s not about being able to control the suffering around me, but incarnating Christ in the midst of suffering. (I should probably take a moment to say that this post isn’t actually about me incarnating the love of Christ to my not-actually-dying puppy)
Mother Teresa’s critics might be correct in saying that what she does may not yield any worldly productive result. It won’t change anything about the system for her to sit by a dying man on a street corner in Calcutta. But to that one soul, even if just to be present and dignify him as a human being made in the image of God, perhaps Mother is incarnating the love of Christ. That sums up much of what I’m reading about Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta and Mary Poplin’s experience with the Missionaries of Charity: being present among the poorest of the poor, the dying, the ones who can’t advocate for themselves, who don’t have the means to help themselves or the ability to let you know how to help. I wonder if I could sit by the bed of the dying poor and accept the fact that I am not God.
I guess what I’m saying is: freaking out about limp puppy dogs is revealing within myself a heart that doesn’t trust God. I’ve put so much importance and trust in my own power to accomplish things but a limp puppy dismantled it so easily. Incarnating Jesus in a broken world is much less glamorous than I want it to be I think.
The question I’m asking myself tonight is: Am I willing to follow Jesus, to be his hands and feet, even if it means not be able to do anything other than performing the mediocre miracle of simply being present in suffering and incarnating the love of Christ?