Picking Up Sticks
On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur. – Evelyn Underhill
On Sunday morning my daughter insisted that she wanted to walk the dogs with me as we were trying to get ready to go to church. For a six year old (or even for an adult), she is remarkably responsible when it comes to animals and wants to help out however she can. It would have been much easier just to grab the leashes and walk out the door, but I knew the right thing to do was to wait and let her come with me. So she got her jacket and shoes on, picked up the leash for our smaller dog and we headed out the door.
I’m sure that some people have dogs that will do their business on command. My dogs are not those dogs. For a long time they had access to a large backyard and were free to go to the bathroom when they pleased. Now, they have the opportunity to have human companionship and the comfort of a leash while they are attending to business at their “outdoor libraries”. All of which is to say that they take their ever-loving time.
We walked them farther than normal trying to make sure they were done, and then we began the trek back home. After a few dozen steps, I realized that my daughter was not beside me any longer. She had stopped to pick up some sticks for her brother’s “stick collection”.
I’m not sure why or where the idea came from, but both of my children have developed the habit of starting collection of which they are the sole curators – no adult supervision needed or desired. Sophia collects rocks. Quinn collects sticks.
Since I’ve been a pastor, I’ve only once encountered a Sunday morning where I was not in a rush. That particular morning I had been working on illustrating my sermon (with actual pictures) and had spent the night at the church. That was the only time in over seven years that I haven’t felt some rush. Since this last Sunday wasn’t that Sunday, I was in a rush. I needed to get to church. I needed to get done with the dogs, pack my bag, and get out the door.
But there she was, not only picking up one stick, but stopping to pick up another, and then another, and finally one so long that she could barely hold it and dropped it several times. Each time she paused to retrieve it, my anxiety rose as the hour grew later. Finally, I offered to carry the sticks for her. With the sticks in my hands, we began to make our way back to the house more quickly. I felt my body begin to relax, at least a little bit.
Then, the Subaru made a sharp turn to head in our direction. As the window rolled down, I recognized our neighbor, we’ll call him Sam, and his ancient dog, we’ll call her Sheba. Sam works a lot, but we often have conversations over the shared time of our dogs doing business. There have been many times when I have been taking both of my dogs on a walk that should have taken ten minutes, only to find that once Sam is done with me 30 minutes have gone by. Sam is perfectly kind, perfectly caring, and a good neighbor. But while the time it takes to talk to him can stress me out on weekdays, today is Sunday, the one day when it really matters what time I show up to the office.
As he begins to talk to us from across the car through the passenger window, I try to give a quick wave and shuffle off on my way. Sophia, however, walks up to the car to spend some time petting Sheba. Sam beings to talk about work (I’m running late to mine!) and about how much Sheba loves to be petted. I’m beginning to think about just turning and walking away, leaving Sam, Sheba, and if she doesn’t follow, my daughter, when I’m struck by the ridiculousness of it all.
Owning My Ridiculousness
Here I am stressed out about being on my way to be with people and talk about feeling and being the presence of God. And yet, I’m ready to rapidly abandon this opportunity to partake in the divine nature of being with my daughter and my neighbor because I think I need to be somewhere?
I am ridiculous.
I tell people all the time that God is present everywhere, that they need not wait for a particular moment or place to commune with the divine. I tell them that, and I believe it, but do I practice it?
If I let myself go into the moment, can I slow down enough to realize that each one of those sticks that she was picking up was part of a larger tree that began life many moons ago as a sapling and has been nurtured to this point by the grace of God. Can I see that those sticks that seemingly let go of their life as they fell from their tree are now being claimed by my daughter’s love for her brother to serve a purpose that in reality is as important as most purposes? Can I become centered enough to realize that
I am witnessing the miracle of growth, of the learning of my daughter’s hands to hold more things than they could before, learning to form the fingers in a different way? Can I step outside of myself enough to see the want and pain in my neighbor’s eyes as he goes out of his way to seek human contact? Can I notice the way his dog’s blind eye turns aside as my daughter reaches out her hand to offer love to matted fur that has borne out the worries of 1000 nights?
Those Who Have Eyes
Picking up sticks is pure, mystical, grace-filled magic for those who have eyes to see.
It didn’t matter if I was a few minutes late. As long as I’m only paying attention to the clock, I’m never really present where I’m supposed to be anyway. I hope I can learn my lesson, learn to be present, learn to see the potential magic. I hope that next time she asks me to help wash her baby doll’s hair that I’ll stop and do it. I hope that the next time my son wants to show me his greatest ninja move, that I’ll take the time to enter his dojo.
I hope I can learn because then I’ll see the potential magic of the moment for helping her pick up sticks or even to bless the strangers who happen to be next to me. Time’s not running out. It’s really not too late to learn to be more fully human.