Thursday, November 11, 2010

If I had a hammer

I think it would be kind of cool to randomly categorize the desk contents of campus ministers and compare them to the stuff in other folks’ desks. In my desk I have a small chocolate stash, some giant pixy stix, and a hammer, among other things. The chocolate is there to remind me that good does exist in the world and sometimes comes in small packages; the pixy stix are there for the ruthless pleasure of threatening my students with an unbridled Sami sugar high; and the hammer is there, well, because it has a soft place in my heart. Oh, and because occasionally I need to bang out a new hole in my office wall.

I love my hammer. It reminds me of Joe who raised me. He gave it to me in a simple olive green tool box with some other odds and ends tools when I moved away to college. It is a tangible reminder of the truth that some things worth accomplishing in life have to be hammered away at with great diligence and patience. This is what Joe taught me by his example, and through sharing his deeply spiritual wisdom. Consider my favorite Joe saying: “Spit in one hand and wish in the other; see which one fills up the fastest.” Love it! I remember having a pleading bout with him when I was about 10 years old. We had visited family and one of my cousins had moon wallpaper. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Standing in the middle of that room it was easy to feel like Lance Armstrong and Buzz Aldridge admiring the lunar horizon for the first time. I told Joe I wanted a “neat” room like that. He simply said when I could keep my room neat I could have a neat room. I totally thought he had misunderstood what I was saying, so I repeated my longing. Again he gave me the same reply. We continued until I gave up in frustration. What I was missing was the understanding that sometimes the only way to get what you want is to do the work you don’t want. Sometimes the road to satisfaction is paved only by the sweat of the brow.

Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I’m so thankful for Joe’s down to earth insight. In the years since it has served me well. Hard work and perseverance pay off. Yet in our society this notion is counter-intuitive. Our culture is so driven by instant gratification that often, when we cannot immediately fulfill our desires, we give up and look for new pursuits of pleasure. It takes great restraint and self-determination to live into a life-choice of commitment. And I purposefully say life-choice. We never accidentally persevere. It takes a great exercise of will to simply keep showing up and giving one’s best effort in a persistent direction when pleasure is deferred. Yet what treasures are garnered for those who choose this road less traveled.

I believe this is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Let’s face it: People are lazy. Just sayin’. If we can go through life by avoiding discomfort, we usually do. We generally want to feel good all the time, and only do the things that we like doing. Yet this path ultimately leads to all kinds of disappointment. Our destinations can only be as great as the journey we invest in. Even more disturbing, unrestrained gluttony can lead to addiction, destruction, and pain that we never intended and never once desired. However, perseverance leads to some really great stuff!

This is because I truly believe that God honors our perseverance in doing the right thing, in doing the hard thing when all be want to do is give up. When we are willing to give Him our best by not quitting, I believe He gives us His best by doing what only He can do: blessing and multiplying our efforts. Is it hard? Yes. Will you want to give up? Absolutely. But is it worth it to hang in there? You bet! We are so familiar with Jeremiah 29:11 that says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Yet listen to the tender promises He gives to those who will pursue His best even when it demands something from them: “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes” (Jeremiah 29:12-14).

When I was in youth group we had some old hippie youth leaders that would often sing this song: “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning; I’d hammer in the evening, all over this land. I’d hammer out danger; I’d hammer out a warning. I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.” I think of it fondly now as I look at my worn hammer, laying in my campus ministry desk, remembering all the ways that Joe persistently and consistently taught me how to be a person of character, remembering too all the ways we have been hammering out God’s love together on campus. This is what I am doing with my hammer, my work of perseverance, trusting that the One who entrusted me with a tool for building has wonderful plans for His project’s completion. If you had a hammer, what would you build? Can you trust Him to have wonderful building plans for your life too?

This is me trusting,