‘Be at peace,’ I told her. And she had knelt to receive this peace. May she keep it for ever. It will be I that gave it to her. Oh, miracle – thus to be able to give what we ourselves do not possess, sweet miracle of our empty hands!
It’s a mantra to pastors, to anyone for that matter: you can’t give away what you haven’t received. I’ve repeated it. Mostly, I believe it. The truth in these words seems two-fold. First: don’t play games or pretend; smoke what your selling. Second: all we’ve received is grace and all we have to give is grace; don’t get too big for your britches.
But lo and behold, wouldn’t you know that even such good words with such sincere intentions find a way to wiggle back to a place of self-effort and self-importance, a place that forgets (yet again) all about grace and gift and the marvel of God making something of nothing. By God, I hope I can give more than I’ve possessed, more than I’ve taken in and truly received. I certainly hope God can love through me when I’m unlovely and enact mercy through me when I’m in such desperate need for mercy.
Lately, I’ve dropped more than a few balls. If I were a street juggler, there’d be nobody watching – and no coins in the jar. If it’s up to my sermons to save the world, the world’s headed for the fiery place. If it’s up to my powerful faith to create momentum within our church, well, we are in dire straits. Last night, Miska and I were talking about our early years in ministry. “You had quite an ego,” Miska said. She was right. But God was kind and indulgent – and God loved a few people even with my arrogance and faithlessness and erroneous ways. Contrary to Sunday School ditties, apparently God does use dirty pots. Are you familiar with any other kind?
These days, I find myself feeling more empty than full. Some days I don’t know what to pray for – or how to pray for – the people I love. In conversation, I often don’t know the words to share with a struggling soul. My sermons seem vanilla. My organizational skills are struggling to reach their normal level of mediocrity. Old nemesis (doubt, inner-disconnection, spiritual lethargy) have come knocking. All of this leaves me hollowed out.
If my job is to give what I possess, well – you see the trouble. But I believe that when we are empty, there is more space for God to fill, if we’ll be quiet enough to let God fill it. When we have little to say or give or perform, then God can speak and bless and act. And if the gospel means anything, it means this: we need God to speak and to bless and to act.
And from the beginning, God has always made something of nothing, a “sweet miracle of our empty hands” indeed.