In the worst of times, it’s often the smallest of things to which hope clings. What has saved me is words. Well, Word through words, to be exact.
Some people, including preachers after awhile, wonder why we bother spending so much time with words, forcing them to line up correctly like a grade school teacher with an unruly group of kids marching off to the cafeteria. Isn’t this such a colossal waste of time, all this fussing with words? Why bother?
I am one of the reasons why. I was a kid whose parents didn’t have much need for the church. My grandmother read me the Bible stories and prayed and sang Jesus songs with me before going to bed whenever I stayed with her, which wasn’t that much since we lived far away.
I went to Vacation Bible School between the fifth and sixth grades, probably to give my mother a break as much as anything else. While there, I was asked to memorize and recite the 23rd Psalm the next day. I did, not knowing the code like the regular churchgoers—i.e. just because the church asks you to do something doesn’t mean you really have to do it. I won a prize the next day for being the only one to have memorized the 23rd Psalm. You’d have thought I’d hung the moon the way everyone went on about it. I was only doing what I was asked to do.
I don’t remember what the prize was, but I know the real prize was the words I stored up like treasures in the box under my bed filled with rocks and Barbie clothes and other good words I collected from books I’d read. I wasn’t really sure what the words of the 23rd Psalm meant, but having memorized them enabled me to reflect upon them as I grew. And they made me want more God words.
The first sermon I remember was one on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego preached by a visiting pastor at my grandmother’s church that same summer. To this day I remember him asking, “Who WAS that fourth figure in the fiery furnace?” It was Jesus, he said.
Jesus? He was the good shepherd in the stained glass window, draped in a shouldered lamb. He was the baby away in the manger. He was the man on a cross. Now he’s showing up in a fiery furnace? That Jesus sure seemed to get around. And I wanted to follow to see what he’d do next.
I haven’t stopped following. All because of scripture’s and teachers’ and preachers’ words.
Because I didn’t think to say thank you to them then, I want to say it now to all who continue to futz with words: Thank you for staying in the struggle. Though you may not think so, it makes all the difference in the world.