For Anyone Who Bleats

I don’t want to look at what’s inside the Tupperware at the back of the fridge. But once I brave it, I’m relieved to start the task and be done with the judgment lurking behind the hummus and pimento cheese. There’s no guilt in dumping rotten food. 

After all, black spotted soup is obviously trash, regardless of how wonderful it was when it started out. There’s no need to remember whether or not it was supper last week or two weeks before. If you’re like me, sometimes the ooze in the container-turned-petri dish is so disgusting, even the Tupperware has to go. 

Can I get a witness?

How delightful it is to have this task handed over to my daughter who is visiting from North Carolina and asks how she can help. Even better than the freedom that your own guilt-free dumping gives, the freedom of someone else doing it for you, not involving your own nose and eyes and hands, is sublime.

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Something buzzes in my brain, pulsing along an internal lightbulb circuit, and I realize, ske-doosh, this is just what Jesus does for me in the Tupperware-turned-petri-dishes of my soul. 

Beneath the helpful task I did for a neighbor and the love I have for my grandbabies, there’s real bitterness with a certain someone. There’s envy of a younger, hipper, thinner someone else. And there’s the comparison of myself with another person my age. So judgey am I, that I congratulate myself on the win. 

Lord, have mercy. 

Exactly.

Seeing just this much—since I’m not looking any further—is enough to make me turn to the One who already sees and knows. “Yes, I see it. Stinky. Scour me, Jesus.” And while I don’t like looking inside and naming what I see, it’s also a relief to tell the truth about it and hand it off to him. I can’t change me—but he can. Relief comes like a guilt-free Sunday at home. Like handing off the furry fridge to Sadie.

I wonder why he doesn’t just dump my Petri dishes and be done with them, quick and clean. In my experience, his clean-up can be mind-numbingly s l o o o o o w. He tinkers. He moseys. In no hurry whatsoever, he soaks and scrapes and scrubs. He rarely dumps.

Rather than removing the bitter relationship lickety-split, he pulls the bad roots out one at a time, over years, not moments, so that by the time he’s done, I don’t remember when he even started—I only know that the bitterness is gone. Rather than smiting my envy, The Young Threat starts seeking me out. Before I know it, I have a new friend, and we’re meeting over tea once a month. And the “loser” I was better than, helped me the last time I ran out of gas on an isolated stretch of road to my house, a big bite of humble pie along with roadside service.

It’s such slow work, but it’s good work, work that I’m unable to do myself but glad I get to participate in. I can at least agree with him that it needs doing. And I can look into his “mirror, mirror on the wall” that tells me who’s not the kindest or most loving one-of-all. It is both sobering and exhilarating to read God’s words in the Bible and to feel them work inside me.

I’ve read the Bible as a chore off-and-on most of my life, but something happened a few years ago, and now I don’t just read the Bible. It reads me. It’s alive. It digs down deep and exposes me, like a mole burrowing beneath the Bermuda, looking for grubs. 

Sometimes it convicts, sometimes it comforts, but always it helps and heals and speaks love to me, just like he does. Which makes sense, when you think about it. These are God’s words, after all, from his heart to mine. Why wouldn’t they move me?

I’ve started writing down what seems highlighted, those words that jump at me, right off the page. And sometimes, I write my own words, like we’re cosmic pen-pals, writing love notes back and forth across the Milky Way without my having to leave my favorite spot on the sofa.

It’s kind of exciting, to tell you the truth. I’ve got words written just for me from the God of the Universe, who pushed up the mountains and flung the stars into place. And I get to write back to him about what matters most to me.

I’ve stopped falling asleep while I read the Bible. And more, since I’ve been journaling these notes, I’ve been awakened in the wee hours morning after morning. It happens so predictably now, I no longer set an alarm. While I used to hit snooze as a regular morning ritual, getting up has become my favorite part of the day. 

I used to think the story of young Samuel, awakened from sleep by God’s call to him in the middle of the night, was a nice Bible story for children. Look at how God used to speak to people long ago, I thought. Look how safe a place the temple was for Samuel to grow up in. He probably sang hymns all day. Such a saint! 

Look how self-sacrificing Hannah, his mama, was to dedicate him. Such faith! Look what a great priest Eli was to advise him about how to talk to God. Such a mentor! Such a nice, distant story, full of heroes of faith. It fairly creaked as the dust shifted and settled on it.

But no. I’m guessing Samuel was just like any kid; he threw his ball against the temple wall, probably had a dog. He had to have been lonely there with only old Eli. Hannah was the barren second wife of her polygamist husband and was regularly made fun of by his first. She made a promise to God when she was desperate to give birth. Samuel was raised by Eli, who’d already raised two sons that turned out to be jerks. Eli was no great father-figure or super-star-prophet-maker. He was more like a priestly failure. 

But there was a Superstar in the story. God has always been the One, ever since creation, who sought relationship with his people. And ever since those people insisted they didn’t want that relationship, he’s been seeking them still. Since ancient times, he’s been saying “I love you” to a world that mostly hasn’t listened. Or wanted him.

Samuel listened. The beauty of this story for me is how disarming it is to my adult ears, that God Almighty came to speak to a child, not Eli, the priest. And that a childsaid back to him, “Speak, Lord, for your servant listens.” Part of me wants to keep the story dusty—how quaint, how innocent, how another-time-and-place that was.

But another part remembers: God hasn’t changed. He’s still who he’s always been, and he still wants a relationship with his people. He’s not looking for the beautiful people. Or the powerful people. He’s looking for a child who will listen. For a woman who has nowhere else to turn for help. For ordinary, stupid sheep, for goodness’ sake. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “My sheep hear my voice and follow me”? Jo 10:27, NASB. 

God’s true people have never been churchy types. Most of the Bible stories I’ve read are about adulterers, murderers, whores, loners, liars, wanderers, thieves, scaredy cats, addicts—you get the idea. They were the broken and the broken-hearted, who happened to meet up with God when they were on the bottom—like Eli, Hannah, and Samuel. 

The focus has never been on being like them. It has always been on the greatness of him, the One who loves them in their lonely places and in spite of their brokenness, who loves them enough to spill his own blood to bring them near, who cleans up their Tupperware, who empowers them by his Spirit to do great things for him.

I’m an ordinary person, just like anyone else. I do and say stupid stuff sometimes, just like everyone does. But is it possible that God still wants to hang out with me? Could he be waking me to chat, to read his words and to write notes with him?

When I think about what I know of God’s dealings through history with people on this planet, I think, well, as far as I can tell, he never chose the likely person. But when he woke up Samuel, he chose the willing person.

So why not me?

And why not you?

This is for anyone who is listening, and who bleats. 

“The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word,” 1 Sa 3:21, emphasis added.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart,” He 4:12. 

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The origins story of Samuel can be found in I Samuel 1-3.

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