It is always over a math lesson. My son’s existential crises always start there. First it’s, “Why? Why do I have to learn this? Why do I have to do this work? Why does this matter?” And it often escalates to, “Why? Why does any of this even matter?” And, I, being just as sanguine as my son, often respond in not so helpful, heated ways to the first questions and then end up staring helplessly at his wet freckles as the tears follow. Why does any of this matter? I feel panic rising within as my small, nine-year-old son asks big, grown-up questions. As his stubbornness and rebellion collide with obedience and responsibility, all the spiritual truth we’ve poured into his little heart in this near-decade gets laid out on the desk and he whispers worries and doubts. “Can I lose my faith?” he questions. “Because I feel like I don’t know. I don’t know what’s true.” And in those moments, I feel like a piece of paper ripped on all edges, pulled from the Rudyard Kipling poem, “If –”.
“…watch the things you gave life to, broken, And stoop to build ‘em up with worn-out tools.” 1
And that’s just it. My tools for managing this seem so worn-out. The cajoling to finish math lessons. The encouraging to not lose one’s cool. The imploring to not lose heart or faith. It all feels worn out. So I reach for the one worn-out tool that never loses its edge, despite its sagging spine and fragile pages. I flip to the Gospels where Jesus is still speaking, still healing.
Math equations are momentarily forgotten as we read about miracles. There once was a crippled man who lay within reach of healing waters of Bethesda in Jerusalem, but every time he wished for someone to help lower his paralyzed body into the pool, others pushed and crowded past him. He was ignored and stepped over. Over and over again. For 38 years he had lived in this prone state. The healing waters were so close, and yet so very distant. He could not drag himself to the miracle. But one day, the miracle walked right up to him. “Do you wish to get well?” Jesus asked the man. “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk. Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.” (John 5: 6-9)
The man’s fingers never dipped into the water. Instead they pressed right into the palms of Jesus.
It’s then that my son and I cry tears of a different seasoning – not of bitterness or frustration but of sweetness and gladness. We have our answer to why we are here and what it all matters. The why is found when we flop over on our backs and stare upwards. We stop trying to drag ourselves to salvation and we meet our Savior’s face as He stands waiting to heal us. Whether healthy or ill, happy or depressed, we all have tried the broken tools to build up what we love. And we will fail every time unless we take the hand that is offered us from heaven.
The math lesson concludes and I leave the Bible open on the desk for the boy to ponder a little longer. I ask him to decide what he believes about Jesus. It’s his faith to claim. Not mine. I return a little later and the reply has been left to me in a message of cheese crackers. A cross constructed of cheese crackers. Like the crackers we pass on communion Sunday that remind us Jesus’ body broken for us. Jesus saw us all fall away – humanity choosing death over life.
“…watch the things you gave life to, broken…”
And so He stooped near and hung on a cross so that we might be built up new.
I’ll lay aside my worn-out tools and press my hands into Jesus’ grasp. When the little boy asks heavy questions, I’ll keep on reading those sacred verses and remind him of that truth he once spelled out in cracker crumbs. And whispering Kipling’s wisdom, I’ll implore, “And so hold on when there is nothing in you, Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”
Kipling, Rudyard, and Giovanni Manna. If –. Mankato, MN, Creative Editions, 2014.