This morning the pastor began his sermon by quoting my favorite Psalm;
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
He had my attention. Then the reverend told the story of a logger challenging another to a contest of chopping down trees. “The one with the most chopped wood at the end is the winner.” The challenged accepted and they met the following morning at dawn. The challenger yelled; “Go!” and began swinging his axe with all his might and at great speed. The challenged swung his axe at a steady, but slower, rate. The challenger went as hard as he could all morning, ate a short lunch, and then resumed his feverish pace until the sunset. He knew he had won. How could he not? His speed, strength, and stamina were unmatched by the challenged. In fact, during the day, when he’d stop to wipe his brow, it seemed every time he looked the other logger was sitting down and resting. However, when both men looked at the two piles the challenger was flabbergasted and admitted his opponent’s pile of wood was bigger than his. “How could that be?” he asked. “I worked longer, stronger and faster!” “True,’ said the winner; ‘but when I rested I was sharpening my axe.”
A simple but important lesson. Sometimes we are so fixated on “what we have to do!” that we forget to rest. We are overworked and overwhelmed. What we need is rest. Rest restores the body, mind, and spirit. In our culture, resting is frowned upon. This is because we’ve forgotten the difference between being at rest and being lazy.
Deep Purple –
This morning I turned on the water for all the outside faucets in a friend’s yard. As I waited for the water to reach the spigots I heard the unmistakable sound of gushing water. This is not what you want to hear after turning the water on for the first time since winter. Using my ears I could tell it was a pipe running under the deck. I loosened some sideboards which allowed me to see under the deck and sure enough, there was a busted PVC elbow that connected two pipes. Sigh. I was able to find all the pieces I needed without going to the hardware store and began sawing, drying, applying a deep purple primer and putting the new fittings together. I turned on the water for a quick test and it went to the outside spigots and then turned it off to apply some cement putty and ensure it won’t, hopefully, crack, bust, leak, at least for the summer.
As I squirmed and worked under the deck I thought about how all of us at one time or another, one season or another, end up being dry because our source has been diverted. What’s required is listening, heeding, discovering where the leak is so that it can be fixed. It’s often not an easy job but a necessary one.
I heard a story today about a chaplain who worked in a veteran’s hospital in the 1950’s. There was an African-American soldier in the hospital who had lost a leg in the Korean War. The physical therapists had worked with him trying to get him used to wear a prosthetic leg. Both the soldier and medical personnel tried everything they could think of but nothing worked and the soldier was ready to give up and live life with one leg and crutches for the rest of his life.
The chaplain was made aware of the situation and stopped by soldier’s bed one night to see if he could be of any help. “I can still feel my leg, my real leg!” the soldier cried. “It’s a phantom pain.” replied the chaplain, “It will go away in time.” “That leg!” retorted the soldier gesturing toward the prosthetic one, “will never be ‘my’ leg.” After visiting with the young man the chaplain prayed with him and asked if he could take the prosthetic one with him. The soldier responded with a shrug.
The next day the chaplain returned with the same leg except it was painted a shade of brown to more closely match the soldier’s own skin tone. “What did you do?” asked the perplexed soldier. The chaplain, hoping he hadn’t offended the young man said he took it home with him and thought painting it might make it seem more palatable. “That’s all you did?” asked the soldier admiring the leg. “That’s it.” smiled the chaplain. The chaplain helped the young man to the side of the bed, attached the leg, helped him take his first few steps and from that day forward the soldier made remarkable progress.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The chaplain helped the soldier not by insisting he use resources given to him by the hospital but by listening and understanding what the soldier was going through and then adapting his help to the soldier’s personal, unique need.
Too often we see people who need assistance and we automatically assume there are places and resources that are available. We surmise that if someone wants help enough they’ll figure out how to get it. The truth is everyone’s story is unique and unless we listen, understand and are willing to personally get involved many will go on suffering and being blamed for doing so.