“There are elements of the ridiculous about you…” ~ Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary
On an open suitcase filled with 40 brown paper bags hangs a hastily handmade sign stating, “Finals Survival Kits” in the hallway outside a meeting room in a hotel in downtown Portland. My life is a little ridiculous. Hours of work and a surprising amount of struggle have resulted in this strange tableau.
Once a term we collect donations from members of The Groves Community to create these kits, these small brown paper sacks filled with exam supplies, pencils, candy, granola bars and cracker and fruit snacks. After I purchase the supplies based on revenue collected, we gather to assemble the kits. Students pick them up on the following Sunday to hand out to their friends during class the week before finals. This is our tangible way to share God’s love with the students in our neighborhood of downtown Portland. Well, this time 40 out of the 30,000 students.
And now, as I stand in a worship service singing about the sacrifice Jesus made for me, I think of how tiny and ridiculous this offering in the hallway outside is in comparison. I think about my personal experience with God’s beautiful, gracious, expansive love and am a bit ashamed of my pathetic offering. All the while I am acutely aware of the great amount of time, effort and love that went into it.
I am humbled.
For a moment I understand what the scriptures mean when I read that all of our offerings are like filthy rags, or when Isaiah proclaims that he is a man unfit to be in God’s presence and for that moment I am thankful to be so poor and terminally in transition because these limitations free me to see my humanity, my utter weakness and my insufficiency so clearly.
If I worked in a larger church, one that perhaps had a building and a budget for student ministry that includes not only an actual livable wage but also resources for this kind of project, the presentation and completion of this project would look entirely different. It would be super slick and with a fancy logo on boxes and banners all presented on a table decorated appropriately.
I would not have to wait and see what resources are given to this specific project by generous church members and then spend hours calculating how to get the largest impact out of a smallish budget and I wouldn’t have to figure out how to transfer kits back and forth via mass transit or my feet from my apartment across campus to the room we use half a mile away in the on-campus hotel.
The project would look pretty and require less sacrifice and I would look at it and think about how great we are and about this swell thing we are doing for students and how God will use it for his good.
Instead, I look at it and think about how God had to move us and provide for us in every step and the result is sitting on the floor in a hallway in a suitcase with a paper sign.
Then I think about how much students really do appreciate this gift. About how exited they were to get them at the end of Fall Term. The students receiving these kits were unfazed by the simple plain packaging and are instead surprised and swell with love at this gift of love without condition.
It’s interesting how closely this act parallels God’s gift of love through Jesus; the simplest of circumstances providing the most extravagant gift of love and humanity’s hesitation, apprehension and just plain resistance to receive this gift.
When I hand out kits, I realize how starved for love we all really are because, honestly, this kit is one of the smallest tokens of God’s affection. We really do accept the love we think we deserve and we are people in need of genuine love. We need truth and light to break through the lies and darkness that inhabit our souls enabling us to begin the process of being able to accept the abundance of love that God desires to give us.
And I think about what Jesus said, “This is large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” (excerpt of Matthew 10:40-42 MSG)