Paring Down to Nothing

November 8, 2013

You might appreciate the bond between a woman and her purse. If not, it’s like this: Don’t mess with me, baby. My Bandolini bag has provisions for body, mind, and spirit in the form of water bottle, Zone Bar, mini New Testament, wallet, sunglasses, inhaler, lipstick, last week’s church bulletin, iPhone, pencils and pens, cough drops, car keys, iPad, and lip balm. And that’s just the beginning. I am prepared at any given time to be away from home most of the day with everything I need.

But the current lung adventure has required a new ritual. Almost daily this week, in preparation for one procedure or another, before I leave home I must divest myself of my purse (“all valuables”) and anything on me: earrings, cross pendant necklace, watch, rings (though I can’t get my wedding ring off), sunglasses, and extraneous clothing. As I arrive at the medical office/surgi-center/hospital, the only items I have stashed in my cargo pants are my driver’s license, health insurance card, a VISA card to pay the copay, and my phone. Once I go through that door, though, even those items are relinquished, as well as my own clothes in exchange for the blue and white “gown” (a funny name for such an inelegant garment). And they keep asking me if I am hiding anything else they want: dentures, contact lenses, or hearing aids.

So what do you do when all you’ve got is yourself, in a somewhat strange environment, with lots of time on your hands, nothing to read (and, thankfully, not even TV to watch—this I do not miss) and no props to make you feel at home?

Earlier this week I was tempted to panic, because I had left a John Grisham novel on the kitchen table by mistake. But thankfully, God grabbed me by the scruff of the neck with a big smile and said, “Oh good, let’s just sit together and make our own fun.” And immediately, the previously denied thirst of my soul expressed itself, and for once I was grateful for the quiet and the freedom to talk things over with my Great Physician. It has been during these times that my blog ideas have percolated. [I have enough sermon illustrations to last a year!] Today the conversation required a bit of confession and forgiveness, too, because, frankly, I’m getting tired of paring down to nothing. But the potential for actively listening to God and my neighbor in such a state is undeniable.

Maybe that’s why Jesus sent the disciples out to minister in towns and villages with these instructions: “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff . . .” (Matthew 10:9). He wanted to make sure their faith was placed firmly in Jesus and their dependence upon the Lord would be a real, tangible trust. Jesus hopes we might discover that a person really doesn’t need that much stuff in order to get along in life or to do ministry. Too much stuff gets cumbersome, causes its own worries, and closes us off to relational security available when we sit with our Savior and enjoy life together. Solid faith requires no outward props or provisions to flourish.

We don’t always live like that is true. Our congregations still subliminally believe “if we build it, people will come,” our presbyteries think that possessing property will secure their ministries forever, and church members judge a congregation by the spiffyness of its facility. We come to church toting our cell phones, our lattes, and our crocheting for the back row. By doing this, we are actually coming to worship empty-handed spiritually. Securing ourselves against boredom or hunger actually dulls our senses to the excitement of God’s presence in worship and our spiritual need. If we were to come to the Table without our purses or extra cloak, we would discover our hands are free to grasp the love of God without hindrance and in full trust for his provision.  “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:31f).

The answer is, Yes, he will! God has given everything of his own so that we would have everything we need from his hand. So I am leaving my hands free for awhile in order to be ready to grab God’s hand for stability and receive from him all I need. 


3 Responses to “Paring Down to Nothing”

  1. Alan Harrell Says:


  2. emd5542 Says:

    Thank you, Pastor Mary, for this extraordinary “call to worship” of the living God and for again sharing with us how we can engage/reengage with the Lord ourselves. I can only add Amen! Thanks be to God

  3. houstonhodges Says:

    Loved your learning and sharing thereof with me, dear rabbi: “getting rid of stuff to make room for God,” and why I’ve never understood those strictures in Matthew 10 about disencumbering for the journey, which seems counter to all that preparation that seminary provides. “Empty your hands so God can reach for your hand,” simple as that. Down to your skivvies … and dignify that with the term, “robe,” very like a “preaching gown.” Yes!

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