One week ago today, at first light, I tossed my backpack and a duffle bag into the back of our car. Minjing and I then drove to Ballard where I met up with other climbers who would be my companions for three days as we attempted to summit Glacier Peak, one of Washington’s five volcanoes.
But on the drive to Ballard I had the feeling I was missing something. I pulled off to the side of I-5 and checked; sure enough—I was missing one of my trekking poles. Later Minjing found it lying on our driveway. But there on the freeway I had no time to turn around; I was due to meet my climbing companions and didn’t want to hold them up.
When I met up with my fellow climbers I found that there were no extra poles. I would be climbing for the next three days with only one pole. I wondered if it would be enough.
At our meeting place I noticed that one of my fellow climbers—Jason–had an eye that didn’t look quite right. Later I asked him about it and he said it was a glass eye; his eye had been poked out when he was three years old and he’d learned to live with one eye ever since.
One eye. I wondered if it was enough.
With these experiences fresh in my memory today’s psalm caught my attention:
Fear the Lord, you saints of the Lord, for those who fear the Lord lack nothing. The lions are in want and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.
The human fear of not having enough has been at the heart of God’s story from the very beginning. In that ancient story of Adam and Eve, the first humans had everything they needed. But they doubted. The story of God’s relationship with us at every turn is some variation on this theme: God is gracious. God is love. We have what we need. But we go our own way, anxious, unhappy and afraid, convinced that we don’t have what we need.
The lead story in yesterday’s Seattle Times reported how some residents of Bellingham, Washington, are upset by how many Canadians are visiting their city, shopping for good deals. These Americans complain about crowding and long lines at Costco and other stores.
Now, think about that. Here are Canadian visitors pouring millions into the local economy and billions into the U.S. economy but instead of being grateful for abundance and glad to live with a little inconvenience some choose to complain. They see only what they don’t have. In this case, not enough space to shop.
It may seem like a silly thing but this real-life example reflects the timeless, deep truth of God’s Word. The psalmist writes, The lions are in want and suffer hunger. Lions represent strength and power. And yet, many times—as we see in our own day—it is often strong nations, rich and powerful individuals who are most loudly ungrateful, clamoring to preserve their own rights and privileges. You can bet that in Bellingham it is not the poor who are complaining about long lines of Canadians at Costco.
Well, it’s easy to beat up on the rich, or a few whiners in Bellingham. But are we able to take such modern-day parables and apply them to ourselves? Are we able to hold our own lives up to the light of God’s Word and expose those areas of ingratitude and fear of not having enough?
Gratitude and wisdom are inseparable. In today’s second reading, for example, the writer of Ephesians cautions his readers:
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise…Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is…Be filled with the Spirit…, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Giving thanks to God at all times and for everything”–that’s a tall order! It reminds us that our work in this life is never done. Christ invites us to continually deepen our relationship with God as long as we have breath. The more our energy is focused on God’s will the less energy we have for our own complaints and fear of scarcity. The more we turn our attention to God the more we live gratefully, giving thanks, even in the most unlikely circumstances.
The deepest truth of all is that living gratefully and joyfully is one of the surest signals to the world that we know we are loved. The bottom line of our faith is God’s unshakeable love for each and every person. In response to God’s love we can rest, we can breathe, we can see abundance where others see only scarcity.
At the end of my Glacier Peak climb this past week I discovered through personal experience and observation two things: one trekking pole was enough for me. Sure, there were times when climbing that mountain would have been easier with two. But, it was less weight to carry and one less thing to keep track of.
The other thing I discovered is that for Jason, my climbing partner, one eye was enough. It didn’t slow him down or discourage him at all. In fact, he was one of the fastest on our team, and even able to joke about his disability. One day, as he was cleaning his sunglasses he said, “That’s the great thing about having only one eye: I only have one lens to clean!” That’s gratitude! It’s a Godly attitude—seeing the abundance we have rather than what we don’t have!
In the end, though, maybe it was our mountaineering guide Jacob who put it best. Before we began our 28-mile hike he tried to get us to pack as little as possible. Ounces add up to pounds, and pounds add up to pain, he said—and would say throughout our time together!
The same can be said of the spiritual life. The more we fear not having—the more we worry, the more we complain–the more we burden ourselves, adding pain where God desires joy. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
May God lead each of us to travel light, to live lives of gratitude, focusing on God’s abundant love for us and for all people. May each of us live confidently in the assurance of God’s grace, making it our goal to live in the spirit of our second reading to give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN