If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands

Perhaps it’s just the mini-van-driving and wheels-of-the-bus-singing stage of life I’m in, but when I read the opening words of Psalm 86: “Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy” – the first thing that came to my mind was this:

If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands.

Friends, I clapped. I have been reading through Caryn Rivedeneira’s lovely little book for weary moms:  Known and Loved: 52 Devotionals from the Psalms, and I settled into the pages one morning and thought about this neediness that I feel almost constantly as a mom. And I’m wondering: maybe one of the hidden blessings of motherhood is becoming aware of this neediness, and learning how to ask for help.

We come into this world utterly dependent on others. Babies rely on their parents for everything. Childhood is the long process of slowly learning independence: beginning with the toddler’s first insistence “me do it!”

Little Mr Independent doesn't want anyone to hold his hands while we walk.

Little Mr Independent doesn’t want anyone to hold his hands while we walk.

Later, they learn to dress themselves, feed themselves, wipe their own butts (oh thank you God!), read to themselves, bathe themselves… and later yet, transport themselves, organize themselves, and to decide for themselves. Our goal as parents is to transition them from dependence to healthy independence. This is maturity.

But maybe there is a second ‘turning’ which marks a new phase of maturity: the transition from independence to learning healthy interdependence. Motherhood, more than anything else, has taught me that. Before I had kids, I felt competent at what I did. I didn’t know everything, but I knew enough to do my job. I had particular skills suited to my particular vocation, and it felt good to be a person skilled enough an independent enough to be the one offering help where help was needed.

But then came a bundle of crying baby: and I couldn’t get her to sleep or to stop crying. I couldn’t make enough milk to feed her, and didn’t even know enough to discern that that was the problem. Taking care of her was my full-time job, and it was a job I felt utterly incompetent to do. I had gone from feeling useful to feeling completely useless, and through sobs confessed to my husband one night, “All I’m supposed to do is the very basics: feed her and get her to sleep… and I can’t even do that!”

It was there, in my sobbing heap of uselessness, that I got a fresh glimpse of God’s grace: his tender love for me even when I had nothing to offer. The neediness of motherhood pulled a new prayer out of me: “Help! I’m drowning!” I learned the old hymn’s words afresh: “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

I was needy, and I knew it.

God brought me comfort in the way that 2 Corinthians 1 promised he would: directly with his presence, and indirectly with his love and comfort expressed through others. Having kids taught me that grace didn’t just mean being someone able to offer help, it meant being someone able to ask for, and receive help.

Yes, please hold my baby?

Yes, please would you bring us a meal?

Yes, would you substitute this class for me?

Yes, I’d love it if you could watch them for an hour so I can take a shower.

From dependence to independence. From independence to interdependence. This is maturity.

Yesterday I took my overtired, hangry kids to the grocery store, since we had an Old Mother Hubbard situation in our kitchen. It was a disaster. In the hour it took to locate the contents of a skeleton grocery list, my middle kid needed to use the potty twice and the youngest had a Vesuvian diaper explosion. I wrangled my kids through the store and arrived rather breathlessly at the check-out counter. I paid for our goods and, in the customary way of store clerks, our checker asked politely, “and would you like any help out today?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Yes, I would. Please. Thank you. Yes, I would.”

All together now: If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands.

(Clap, Clap)

 

 

 

Guilt-free summer feasting

Personal bible study is not my forte.

In fact, that is probably a little sugar-coated. It would be more accurate to say I suck at regular, personal bible study.

Like exercising more and eating less ice-cream, regular bible study is one of those things I know I should be more disciplined about, and that I have benefitted greatly from when I’ve been more consistent. But usually I don’t, and I feel guilty instead.

I do best when I have buddies. When I have company, I cycle further, I eat healthier, I read the Scriptures more.

So since the summer-hiatus-when all-things-grind-to-a-halt is upon us, I figured I’d better make a plan to find some bible buddies. I sent a pitiful email out to a handful of women. It read something like this: “I suck at reading the bible by myself. Will you join me on Thursdays and read Luke with me this summer? Please???”

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I sent it to 12 women, expecting less than half to reply. I got 13 yeses. A bakers dozen of bible buddies.

Now I am someone who has been thoroughly trained in how to lead a bible study: how to study and interpret a passage, how to launch discussion, how to prepare questions etc. and I have myself taught many students how to prepare and lead a bible study. And for sure, extensive preparation from the leader DOES make for great bible studies. And preparation by the participants (whether with a study guide or just reading the passage before the time) usually makes for better discussion.

BUT….

My plan for the summer was a no-guilt bible study. So clearly the big-prep-reaps-big-rewards model of bible study wasn’t going to work for me. So I confessed my laziness and decided on these rules of engagement:

1. No reading or prep for anyone. (so no one would ever feel guilty for arriving unprepared)

2. No preparation questions from me. (so no guilt about not asking or answering “correctly”)

3. We would gather and start reading Luke. Each person takes turns reading as many sentences as they like before they pass off to the person next to them, who can read or pass themselves (no guilt about reading too much/too little/not at all).

4. We see how far we get each week. (no guilt about how much we covered)

5. If anyone has anything they want to ask, comment on, point out etc, they say “stop”, and we stop and discuss. When we feel we’re done disussing, we resume reading. (no guilt in shouting stop. Any question or comment is fair game.)

And so we began. Just a handful of women, the Holy Spirit, and Luke. And it was Marvelous. Refreshing. At times hilarious (think of Zechariah’s trying to act out what the angel told him about his elderly wife’s imminent pregnancy!). At times poignant. At times thought-provoking. It was wonderful.

I think I’m going to call it our GONG bible study: Girls Only No Guilt. (Hmmm. If our male-counterparts were to have one would it be a BONG study?)

The simple goodness of our study made me think of my husband’s new hobby: bread making. Much to our gastronomic delight, my hubby has been experimenting with all those back-to-basics recipes. He has learned how to make starter doughs with fantastic names: poolishes and bigas. Simple ingredients of water, yeast and flour, to make simple yet mouth-wateringly delicious loaves.

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I am usually a sandwich girl. I am all about the toppings: the fresh arugula, the tangy mustard, the sun-sweetened tomatoes. And the bread just holds it together like culinary parentheses. But oh, to rediscover the simple goodness of just bread. Bread by itself. Bread which fills the house with its home-and-hearth aroma. Bread hot out of the oven. Bread I burn my fingers on because I try to pull hunks off it before it has cooled.

When it comes to bible study, I think I've grown accustomed to the bible sandwich: scripture with toppings of commentary and other people's thoughts and questions and interpretations. But oh, to rediscover the simple goodness of just reading the bible. No fuss, no guilt. The bible by itself. Daily bread which infuses my life with His aroma. Fresh Bread. Bread I can’t wait to have more of.

I can’t wait until next week. Luke: we’re going to sink our teeth in and nourish our souls.

Friends, if you have a bible and a buddy – I hope you’re feasting.