Photo Credit: © 2010 Matthew Simantov, Flickr | CC-BY.
~by Corey Fields
When this site, Practicing Families, was first formed, my son was a preschooler and my daughter was still in her terrible twos. Then I blinked. It’s nearly 4 years, a cross-country move, and two hamsters later. They walk to school with their neighbor friends every morning, looking all grown up. My daughter has the toothless mouth of the 1st grader she is but the self-conscious attitude of the teenager I’m in denial that she will be. She is our family’s designated pray-er and starts our dinners with her long list of thank yous for God. My son, up to my wife’s chin in height, is a decorated cub scout who already knows and does more than I ever did at his age. His extreme extroversion simultaneously inspires and exhausts me.
A melancholy giggle escapes my mouth whenever I think about the parent I thought I would be versus the parent I am. I told myself I’d be on top of things, but I can’t keep up. I told myself my kids wouldn’t get the best of me or make me lose my temper, but they do. I told myself that life wouldn’t revolve around my kids and their schedule of extracurricular activities, but it does.
I march ever so quickly towards middle age. I’m not there yet; after all, people still call me “young.” But I almost start to feel it…the precursors of the mental and emotional stuff that ultimately leads to what we call the midlife crisis.
How do you describe it? It’s a magic brew of feeling physically and socially older, and realizing you haven’t really accomplished much and that you’re running out of time to change the world. It’s understanding more and more of the grand scheme of things and feeling more and more insignificant in light of it. It’s having your vision and ambition get a little more blurry each time you end another week barely able to accomplish the normal routine. You start to see new meaning in the Apostle Paul’s admonishment to think of yourself with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).
I’m a pastor, and I was preparing my sermon this week from the Old Testament lectionary text of 2 Kings 5. It’s the story of Naaman, who is a high-ranking, well-off commander in the army of Aram. He has one nagging, debilitating problem: leprosy. After being told to seek help from Elisha the prophet, he shows up at his house with lots of fanfare—all his horses and chariots—and an extravagant amount of gold and silver. In a moment that’s worthy of the laugh track on a sitcom, Elisha doesn’t even personally acknowledge him but sends his servant out to tell him Elisha’s great plan for his healing: he’s told to go wash in the gross, muddy, unattractive Jordan river. Naaman balks. “Are not…the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” Ultimately, his servants convince him to swallow his pride and wash in the Jordan. He is cleansed.
I see a bit of myself in Naaman. You see, it wasn’t that Naaman was particularly haughty or self-absorbed. It’s just that his own vision of how things are supposed to go got in the way. In fact, his expectations almost caused him to walk away and reject the chance to be restored.
I loved what commentator Kimberly M. Van Driel had to say about this story: “It is tempting to hold Naaman up as a negative moral example. ‘This is not who we should be as people of faith,’ [we might think]. ‘We should be more humble.’ However, the truth is that most of us struggle with being receivers of God’s grace, which comes to us in simple, often undramatic ways: in the word of forgiveness, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, in the waters of baptism.”
It is perhaps a product of living in the KickStarter generation. I don’t know about anyone else, but I put consistent pressure on myself to come up with the latest idea, do something unique that no one has thought of, or in some other way show that I am accomplishing something. Richard Rohr put it this way: “We have to assure ourselves and others that we are valuable and important—because we inherently doubt that we are!”
We so often forget that God reveals God’s self in what Van Driel called the “simple, often undramatic ways.”
What is it that we’re looking for? Why is it that we so desperately pursue relevance? Just as Elijah had to look past the earthquake, mighty wind, and fire to hear God’s voice in the stillness, I believe God’s message for me today (and perhaps you) is this: accept and give thanks for your daily bread.
I sometimes fret and complain about not getting to work until too late in the morning because I have to see my kids off to school. ‘I won’t get enough done,’ I think. But something tells me that that which I see as an obstacle is perhaps one of my greatest callings. I feed them, I (occasionally) tie their shoes, I help them cross the street, and I kiss them and tell them I love them. That is my daily bread, that is my holy work.
Sometimes when I’m at home for dinner and bedtime, I fret: ‘What of all the community connections I could be making?’ ‘What of that book I want to write. There’s just no time!’ If I’m not careful, my pursuit of relevance will make me miss the daily bread of saying grace at the table while my daughter whines about her loose tooth and my son complains about the food. If I’m not careful it will make me miss my daughter’s bedtime story or my son’s insistence that I sit with him before going to sleep as he tells me all of his crazy thoughts and latest ideas. That is my daily bread, that is my holy work.
And if I’m not careful, my pursuit of relevance will make me sit here and try to write a wonderful article while my son is asking me to come and see his creation in Minecraft. So, off I go…
May you accept and give thanks for your daily bread.