It was back in fourth grade, Mrs Houck’s class. As usual, I had some free time while the rest of the kids finished their work so I picked out one of my favorite books from the overflowing shelves. I sat there in relative silence, just the scratch of 25 pencils around me and lost myself in the beauty of that book. It wasn’t long before the tears were pouring down my cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them off. I knew when I chose the book that I would end up weeping but I didn’t care. Some Ryan or Cody (we were children of the 90’s) looked over. “Why are you crying, Penny?” he jeered. “Because this book is sad.” “Then why would you read it???” “Because,” I answered, grasping for the right words, the tears still streaming, “because it’s real. Well, the story isn’t real, but it could be.” “I still don’t get why you like reading it.” At that point, I just shrugged. And went back to cheerfully crying over a baby kept alive by her dead mother’s failing heat after the mother lost her mind during a hard, homesteading winter and wandered out to the woods in the middle of the night. I’ve never been too good at deciphering my own feelings, never mind explaining them to some 10 year old bully.
Because the truth is, I really didn’t understand what drew me time and time again to choose to expose myself to grief and sadness. Why did I care what the world around me felt? It wasn’t some deeply spiritual love for the hoi polloi. I wasn’t even born again.
But I think now know what it was. I think it was an almighty God, looking down from Heaven and choosing to influence and mold a little goody two-shoes girl who didn’t need Christ, because one day she would finally give up and become His child and He had plans for her life.
I didn’t know back then that one day I would be taken into confidence over some of the world’s most grotesque sins. I didn’t know back then that I would be an eye witness to the daily grief of third world life. I had no idea that I would be constantly bombarded with the hard things of life.
Looking back, I’m grateful for that little scrawny fourth grader who had the guts to confront those hard things on purpose.
Every one of us has a choice. It’s easier to hide under a rock. To choose to not know. To preserve my own sanctity and avoid having to apply the ashes of the red heifer day after day.
You live a happy, go-lucky life while people, believers and unsaved, all around you drown in guilt and depression and sin.
Do you think I like knowing so and so was abused again and again by their own father, who I also know very well? Do you think it’s pleasant to hear of children going hungry? Is it nice to know of broken, abusive marriages and all the sin that goes with that? Is it pleasant to hear of family hate and betrayal, of loss and sorrow? Of babies dying? These are the hard things of life. This is reality. We live in a broken, broken world.
I wish I could hide under rock. I wish I didn’t have to know.
But then those most beautiful of all accusatory, malinformed words flood my soul with peace and encouragement.
“And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” Luke 15:2
There is no shame in holding hands and weeping with those drowning in sin.
God deliver me if I ever think myself more holy than His own Son, too holy to be stained with the life of another. God help me to be always willing to receive and eat with sinners, to never shirk from the hard things of this life.
They’ll never know hope if I don’t.