I stared at it—unbelieving—in my hand.
Such a small thing, yet its significance was ricocheting about my heart like a bullet fired inside a silo.
I had been in the middle of repairing my son’s cheaply made bookcase, which was warped from years of use. One of the four pegs that held up its top shelf had gone missing. As a result, the shelf could not bear any weight and kept collapsing, causing me no little amount of frustration.
I don’t know what made me do it, because I usually advance bull-headedly in situations like these, but I actually stopped and prayed for help. I slowed down, trying to clear my thoughts for a response from God, however He might choose to give it. In a very short while, an image came to mind of a wardrobe we have upstairs, in which we store all sorts of odds and ends. It contains a plastic bin of hooks and other hardware. Since I had nothing to lose by looking, I ran up to the wardrobe and grabbed the bin, searching carefully. There it was—a single peg amongst the sundries, just waiting to be found.
After ten minutes of repositioning the shelf with all four pegs and applying some glue, we were in back in business. My heart felt much lighter, and not just because I had managed to clean up a mess (I hate disorder in my house). I was happier because I had received an answer, however small, from a great God. Not because I deserved it, but because He wanted to give me a token of His love and to reinforce His desire to provide for me. At least that is how I interpreted the peg in that moment.
Since then, I have been finding a collection of lost things: some much-needed special glue, the cap to a tube of medication, an important instruction manual, a long-lost blue shirt and an even longer-lost colorful sweater. Each time I have run across an item I have felt personally addressed by it, and so have been keeping a list for the last month or so. I don’t know how it works for you, but in my life, half a dozen discoveries in such a short time speaks loudly. So loudly that I simply must try to discern if another message lies beneath “I love you and am here for you.” (Mind you, I’m not knocking that lovely, overarching statement, just digging around for specifics.)
While there isn’t room to attempt an exhaustive explanation in this post, I can say this much at least. Some pieces of the puzzle I prayed for, like the peg. Some showed up when I had simply wished for them back, with varying degrees of intensity. And that discrepancy makes me wonder: what would happen if I stopped and asked more often? If all these found objects—especially the “freebies”—suggest that God is willing to help me with the minutiae I am missing in any given instant, why would I forfeit the chance to have my deeper needs met by actually pausing to pray? Maybe there are remote answers hanging out in hidden places, waiting for me to hunt them down as directed by that gentle impression within.
So many times I think I want big, bold answers to my prayers, seismic shifts that happen immediately, ready or not. When I don’t get them (because God knows better), my mind adds to another kind of list. One that tallies the disappointments, injuries, and enigmas of my life that still affect me daily. Without meaning to, I start to cross them off as “Dead Weight” that is better left behind as I struggle down my path. Moreover, I also suffer from petition-fatigue, for others, for myself, as seasons come and go and things grow worse. That’s when I rip the needle out of my vein, deciding that I’ve donated enough blood to that particular cause. This, too, often happens unconsciously. I don’t mean to give up, I just do when all the other demands in my life clamor for attention.
1 Kings 17 chronicles a period in the prophet Elijah’s life when he was hosted by a poor widow during a drought. When he first approaches her for something to eat, she describes how she cannot comply because her whole household teeters on the brink of starvation:
“As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
(1 Ki 17:12)
“Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’”
(1 Ki 17:13–14)
And just as Elijah declares:
…And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that He spoke by Elijah.
(1 Ki 17:15–16)
So I am really irked by the fact that the miraculous flow of food seems to be kick started by Elijah’s insistence that the widow use the last of her provisions on him first (1 Ki 17:13). Then, and only then, does everybody eat to their heart’s content. This caveat leaves me with the question: Why does the prophet seem to act so selfishly (not to mention rudely) when perhaps they all could have sat down to their divinely wrought meal together?
Having watched her stores grow smaller and smaller for a length of days, the widow must have counted heads, considered the apparent hopelessness of her family situation, and despaired. If it was going to get better it would have by now. Plus, she must have resented any demands being placed on her during the fever pitch of her crisis. How dare this man of God press her with his tone-deaf petition?
Maybe she followed through because she felt she had nothing more to lose. So she laid the last of what she had on the line as final pledge of love to her family. If the promise somehow worked, they would all be saved. If it didn’t, they would be no worse off than she had expected. So she did the equivalent of pausing and tossing up a “Hail Mary” request.
Ever felt like the widow? So ground down by your personal lack of provision (physical, emotional, financial—all of which may affect others) that you are driven—sometimes in bitterness and unbelief—to take some ludicrous step of faith?
Raising an autistic son has brought my husband and me to that point many times. Our philosophy is to keep expanding his world rather than hiding him from it. Sometimes bringing him into new contexts backfires, however, and we have to deal with the consequences with little more than a handful of food and fuel, if that.
One episode that stands out in my memory is making the long trek to a water resort because our son loves swimming. After driving in the car for several hours, stuffing our belongings into a locker, and walking around the pool area, we discovered, much to our dismay, that not all the rides and activities were open. Covid had robbed the resort of its usual number of staff members. We couldn’t have been in there more than half an hour when my son bolted, running all the way to the front lobby of the hotel before we caught him. Sopping wet, he had decided that he didn’t like this environment and wanted to leave right away for home—in 30-degree weather. I don’t recall how we shepherded him back to the swimming area, but somehow we managed and the trip wasn’t a total wash (though we won’t be going back to that particular place again). All that money and effort had seemingly bought us only stress and discouragement.
Fast forward to last August when we took our son to a different water park. He’d been taking swim lessons with a wonderful special needs teacher. Both his dad and I knew he was no longer in danger of drowning. For the first time, we sat on the sidelines and watched him navigate the wave pool by himself rather than having to go in with him. Is this what other parents do? I found myself asking, basking in the experience of “normal parenting” —a rare treat.
I cannot help but think that one trip affected the other. In a crazy way, the disaster of the first made us more determined to work on swimming skills and try again. We weren’t going to let autism (our version of developmental starvation) have the last say. Our son didn’t stop being his same, quirky self, preferring to watch ceiling fans spin and ride the elevator rather than go on a scavenger hunt like his contemporaries. But he was well entertained and happy on this second trip. And that made us relax and appreciate the small blessings that came along the way: good takeout meals, decent sleep, a store nearby that carried some provisions we needed.
Did Elijah and the widow gorge on gourmet meals? As far as I know, everybody remained on a narrow diet according to God’s plan during the drought. But during that time of scarcity, of meals gone missing, every morsel must have been precious, speaking loudly of a God who daily was putting “found” food right into their hands. Perhaps they felt both satisfied and grateful. And, I imagine, a little anxious. Each day they may have asked: is today the day it all runs out? Have any of us done anything to stop the flow?
Currently, I am knitting a prayer shawl with a simple knit-3, purl-3 pattern. Every time I get to the end of a row, I stress that I will be short the right number of stitches because of a mistake I made in the middle. Multiply that feeling by a thousand and you see what I’m saying about the widow’s household.
The human heart is home to so many contradictory feelings. The only sense that seems to stay with me every day is that of being needy, regarding big things, small things, and everything in between. For that reason I want the flow of little messages from God to keep coming, because they quiet and encourage me. Maybe I’ll experiment for a month and start my day actually asking to find more things. At the very least, perhaps I will live with a heightened awareness of God’s activity in my life—how constant His care is when I lay it on the line before Him.
Give us this day our daily bread
Whatever You choose it to be
We say yes to Your provision
Risking all to release it
In our lives
Have mercy on our
Battle weary hearts
Show us You’re always there
For that’s the only answer
Good enough to grant us