I couldn’t sleep last night. I was worrying. Worrying about all kinds of things… would Ayden’s night cough turn into something worse? Is Willow deficient in some mineral that would enable her to sleep more soundly? Will the dog really protect me if someone breaks into this house? Will I ever learn to stop being so selfish? Will I recognize God’s voice when He speaks? Did I remember to put the chicken in the fridge? I flipped on the light and began to read.The author quoted Annie Dillard’s insight in Teaching A Stone to Talk,
Week after week, Christ washes the disciples’ dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, It is all right – believe it or not – to be people. Who can believe it?
I know that I have not been believing it. I know because when I read that sentence I felt a release, a permission, to just be me: broken, hungry, confused, lonely, tired of striving. Can I really just stop striving and be an imperfect person? I guess that is who Jesus came for: people, just as we are.
Sometimes when I read the Bible I feel inspired to be a better person. Inspired to be more like Christ, to live like the early church, with like abandon and with true love and care for those around me. But recently Paul’s writings make me tired. I am tired of “forgetting what is behind and pressing on toward what is ahead.” Not that I want to stop growing. That is the last thing I want. But I want to stop striving just for a little while.
So I went back to a Jesus story that I love. The scene is early morning, dawn just breaking. Waves lapping at the seashore, a fire crackling in the sand, the smell of wood burning mixed with dew seeping into earth. And there are the disciples – there am I – exhausted and frustrated after a long, sleepless night and all for nothing. There are no damn fish in this sea. I was up all night and have nothing to show for it. And a shadow yells at us to try again. That would probably have really ticked me off. “Hey, mister, what the hell do you think I’ve been doing out here all night?!” I have the benefit of knowing who the shadow is. It is flesh and blood, resurrected, Messiah. Jesus. My heart jumps every time I read it.
But my favorite part is not the miracle of the 153 fish, though I’m sure the disciples were pretty stoked to have them. I like to pause the narrative at breakfast time. When Jesus and his friends are sitting around a fire in the cool of the morning. The sun just beginning to make its way to their cold, sore backs. The breeze carrying that salty, fresh fish smell, mixing it in with the smoke. Then licking fingers while watching in amazement as this friend we thought was gone, the dream we thought we’d lost, calmly sits there in the sand with fish juices running through his beard. And we begin to laugh. Big, deep, belly laughter. And we just laugh and laugh until our faces and sides ache with the laughing.
It’s all so normal. There is no great commission right now, no talk about a couple days ago when I failed to pray, fell asleep instead; or when I betrayed Jesus and ran off in the woods, afraid of the call. There is no need to be anything other than a group of friends sitting around a fire in early sunlight eating and laughing together. Really, is there anything better than that?
There are times when the passion is there, the drive to sacrifice and serve and wear myself out for the world and the call. And there are times when I am tired and worried. It’s all right – believe it or not – to be people. Can I believe it? I think I must, somehow, learn to relax into this. Is there a different kind of growth that happens in this space? Tree roots continue to grow deep into the earth even in the darkness and night. When all is still and quiet and unremarkable, there they are still reaching for ever new life. Maybe growth is sometimes a loud struggle and sometimes a quiet leaning. There is pain and joy in both. Can I believe it? Stop striving, just rest, lean in and relax. Let those roots do their thing while you laugh on the seashore.