Lent Week 2: One Does What One Can

     'My pastor, Veronica, one Sunday told the story of a sparrow lying in the street with its legs straight up in the air, sweating a little under its feathery arms. A warhorse walks up to the bird and asks, "What on earth are you doing?" The sparrow replies, "I heard the sky was falling, and I wanted to help." The horse laughs a big, loud, sneering horse laugh, and says, "Do you really think you're going to hold back the sky, with those scrawny little legs?"
     And the sparrow says, "One does what one can."'

~ Anne Lamott, Stitches

Hope is a funny thing. You don't realize you need it until you suddenly find yourself without it. It's intangible, almost metaphysical, yet quantifiably necessary for survival. Scripture implores us to abide in it, reminds us of its utter importance (second only to love and tied with faith), yet counterintuitively does not seem to provide much definition for it.

And in a season when life seems intent on crushing you, hope is the shard of light lodged in your heart, keeping the darkness from consuming you. It is the single Spartan soldier staring down the sea of Persian doubts and fears.

Hope is the last thing to die. It holds out against all odds, in spite of all logical signposts indicating a given situation is doomed to fail.

So what does it look like to abide in hope? I have only a guess, informed by experience and fueled by my own little set of hopes.

For one thing, holding to hope means realizing our hopes are founded on the goodness and love of God.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness

- Hymn

I know, speaking from my own experience, that when life has turned me out, when circumstance has robbed me of my peace and security I have no choice but to put all my weight onto God, trusting for the umpteenth time He won't pull out and let me fall.

We hope because of what we know to be true about the Lord: that He is good, that He is strong, and that He loves us (oh, how He loves us). 

Two things You told me:
That You are strong, and You love me,
Yes You love me.

- Jon Foreman

Without goodness we have a deity who is mighty and happens to favor us (or some of us) but is not overly concerned with Justice or the good of all humankind: a bully God. Without strength God loves us and desires well for us but is powerless to move the world toward that end: a wimp God. And without love God may be just and may be powerful but He does not feel one way or the other about us: a judge God.

Love, strength, and goodness: attributes of God on which we depend and from which we draw hope, as from a well.

Hope is a gift from God. Abiding in hope means accepting the gift.

The second means of experiencing hope is more applicational. It requires action of us, for us to act in hope. Indeed, once we have been given the gift we are to stretch out our hands and start passing it along. We begin by heeding the Still Small Voice, by listening for direction or encouragement from the One never lacking in either.

But while we wait on the Lord, or even by His prompting, we commit not great acts of spectacle, but small acts of love.

Don't look for big things, just do small things with great love.
The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.

- Mother Teresa

And this is where we find our sparrow friend. She is operating from a place of hope which tells her even her own small efforts will help in some minute way to keep the sky from falling.

What's that? The sky is falling?!?

Bless her heart.

After all, though, what else can we do? What can I do but my own part, my own tiny part, and pray it's enough? The alternative is to declare the whole thing hopeless and go back to bed.

But Christians don't get to believe in hopeless. Not since Resurrection Day.

Granted, during Lent we do honor the pre-Resurrection period of mourning, but I contend even during mourning we must work our small acts of hope and love to curb the rush of darkness in this world. Even then. Perhaps especially then.

Cynicism is too easy. So cheap, and so like a drug in its temporary fix but long term lack of spiritual nutrient. Hope can be the hardest thing in the world, but it's only fitting for those worshiping a God who literally went to hell and back.

For hope, like the cross, does not glaze over pain but acknowledges it, honors it, but ultimately moves past it, stretching from the grave on into eternity.

I feel so much for the sparrow and her naive efforts. She does not understand how impossible it would be for a sparrow's legs to hold up a falling sky. I cannot tell you how often I feel like I'm holding the sky up with my sparrow legs. I feel as if it's my duty to save the world but I'm ill-equipped for the task, as if there is so much darkness around and my own little light could never even make a dent. I see my friends in pain, my family fall apart. I see so much hate and division in the world. It's all so impossible.

Unless... maybe the sparrow is savvy to something I don't yet understand. Maybe she, like the White Queen, believes six impossible things before breakfast. So she boldly sticks her legs in the air because the apathetic alternative of letting the sky fall is out of the question. She has faith in the impossible Goodness.

Hope can look to a desensitized world like naivety, but really it is a commitment to working good in spite of seemingly bleak prognoses. It is a choice to sing against the darkness, a belief that we were made for better and will some day have it. Hope is the willingness to see the glass not only as half full but half full of living water.

So I thank the Lord for the gift, and I run with it.

One does what one can.

Romans 8:24-25 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.


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