About that molten rock.
I was listening to this speech by Tyler Jarvis, and yes, it starts out all “mathy” (his word, not mine) and technical, but then it set me back on my heels, hard, and made me look at my whole life.
Because here’s the thing: I don’t know how many times I’ve used the story of Jesus feeding a multitude with a couple of fish and some loaves of bread as metaphor for our own lives–how we have to give everything we have to Him, and trust that He will make up the difference. I’ve used it in talks, in Sunday School lessons, and in one-on-one quasi-counselling sessions. I’ve thought that I believed it, and lived it.
Jarvis doesn’t mention fish or bread or miracles even, but he does talk about the complexity of scientific and mathematical problems, and by extension, life, and how we have to come to grips with imperfection and failure and be willing to make our best approximations and act on them in faith, and fail repeatedly in an iterative process of progression that can feel agonizingly slow–or else risk the paralysis of fear. Because so often, we have to act on solutions that we know are incomplete, inadequate and wrong, simply to learn how to refine the next attempt.
I’m not very good on acting on solutions I know are incomplete. I want to map out the solution first, down to the smallest detail, before I begin. There is something to be said about making your very best approximation before moving forward, of course–of not handing Christ one head of a fish, or half a loaf, when you really have quite a bit more under the napkin.
But I realized that what I’ve actually been doing is more akin to looking in my basket, looking up at Christ, and saying, yes, of course I want to be of service to you and all these people; yes, I believe you can make my efforts enough; but seriously, what I’ve got here is pathetic. You and I both know I could do so much better. How about I zip home and make enough bread to feed all these people, and bring it back here before anyone gets cranky? With sufficient faith, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, so therefore I must be lacking in faith (or willpower) if they do get cranky–so please, help me be faster, better, stronger, because I really don’t want to let anyone down.
That’s what I’ve been asking for. And then I go through life exhausted and bewildered because I know God hears and answers prayers, and I’m trying my hardest, but there simply isn’t enough time in the day or enough flour in my pantry to accomplish the miracle. I am still trying to feed the multitude myself, instead of handing over my inadequate lunch and stepping back into the obscurity of the crowd and letting Him take over. Because in the stress of the unprepared moment, when I have only five loaves and two small fish, not having anticipated the demands of the day, I recognize that I could have done better.
What I don’t consciously consider is that five loaves or ten, nothing I have is going to be enough. Nothing. In terms of the molten rock, I haven’t looked around me, taken stock of my situation, and crafted an imperfect solution out of what resources I have, and then asked God to illuminate my efforts. I have essentially been asking God to somehow transform me so that I don’t need light.
Did you know, I sat down and drew up yet another plan, after twenty thousand other failed plans, and crammed in every little thing that I absolutely MUST do, and when I added up the required hours, most of the days of the week the total was somewhere around 20. And then, instead of saying, hmmm… that won’t work… I said, Okay, God, you are going to have to make me able to function on four hours of sleep a day. Except Wednesdays… I can only fit in two and a half, that day. You are a God of miracles; if you can make rocks glow and multiply loaves and fish, you can make me strong enough to do this. And I was serious. I’m obsessive like that.
But I’m also losing my mind.
Jarvis closes with the chorus from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”, which I’m not familiar with, but which spoke to me so well that I had it memorized upon hearing it once. It ran through my mind for hours afterward:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Jarvis continued: “Our bells are cracked. But let us ring those bells that still can ring. Stop worrying about your failure to achieve perfection—perfection is not possible in this life. Instead, embrace the light and healing power of Christ that come in through our cracks and imperfections.”
I have one more day before school starts up again. One more day to climb the mountain and hunt down some suitable stones before I embark across the great deep that will be this next semester. Can I just say I’m glad it’s Fast Sunday?