When I received the phone call that Grandpa died, my second period students were already filing into their seats. The news of his passing felt like a small collapsing of the universe, but this was a man who, after his horse lost its footing and somersaulted down a steep coulee–stepping on Grandpa’s head in the process–this was a man who got up, packed the hole in his skull with a large handkerchief, wedged his hat on, caught the horse, and kept riding until he lost consciousness. Grandpa would have kept working.
And so, I decided to focus on the task at hand–just get through the day. All went well until third period, when a student approached my classroom door looking uncharacteristically glum. Normally, I pull aside a student like this to see if I can help. But this time, my impulse to help was quickly followed by the thought… not today. Not now. If she starts crying, I might not be able to stop. I’ll talk to her right before lunch.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance. Not 15 minutes later, she rushed out of the room, sobbing. Before the end of class, I learned that she’d lost her father that morning in a horrific accident.
This news devastated me. I saw very clearly that I had mistaken mere routine for the real work I was in that classroom that morning to do. Maybe I had believed that acknowledging my pain would somehow enlarge it, or make me less able to serve others. But this is not what the Gospel teaches, and it isn’t the example Jesus set for us.
In fact, during His greatest suffering, Jesus performed the ultimate act of healing–in Gethsemane and on the cross. He did this in a global sense: atoning for the sins and pains of all mankind. But he also ministered individually: calling out to John to care for his grieving mother while his own soul and body were wracked with incomprehensible pain.
Jesus wasn’t freshly showered on that occasion, or dressed appropriately. He wasn’t especially articulate. He most definitely felt abandoned by society and God himself (Matt 27:46). And yet despite falling short in all these mortal measures of worthiness, He performed the impossible task set before him.
If I would have followed my first impulse and pulled that student aside, would second period have started on time? Probably not. Would either or both of us have dissolved into tears in the 300 hall? Definitely–but we would have done it together. And… maybe that is all God asks of us–not to solve one another’s problems, but to be fully available to one another in the midst of those difficulties.
On many occasions in the four years since Grandpa died, I have felt less than my best. Far less. I have questioned my suitability as a wife, a mother, a teacher, and friend. When this sense of inadequacy threatens to swamp me, I try to remember that God has not put me on this planet because I am worthy or powerful or have all the answers, but because He is, and He does.
He has not asked me to empty my bank account, but to offer my mite. He has not asked me to rush home and bake 5000 loaves; he has asked me to share my own meager lunch basket. He has not asked me to win the approval of the masses; He has asked me to love my neighbor–even when I am flawed, inadequate, or suffering.
He has promised, “I will give you a mouth, and wisdom” specific to the needs of even the most difficult situations (Luke 21:15), and He will keep His promise to make our inadequate offerings enough to lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees, and bind up the brokenhearted–not just the failing hearts and knees and hands of others, but our own, as well (Isaiah 35:3, 61:1, Hebrews 12:12).