“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” — St. Matthew 6:11-13
Growing up, I remember seeing 2 pictures on my parents’ kitchen wall. One picture portrayed an old man, and the other an old woman. I have since gotten prints of both of these pictures for my own home wall. They are called “Grace” and “Grattitude.” In both paintings, the people are praying over a simple meal of plain white bread, their Bibles open. I used to stare at those pictures– at the simplistic tables and the humble meals upon them. I used to wonder why in the world anyone would be thankful for a piece of bread. How could anyone pause and give thanks for something so . . . so . . . ordinary? I mean, come on. There wasn’t even peanut butter.
Bread is a funny thing. It exists in just about every nation, people, creed, and continent in the world. Everyone makes it a little differently. Everyone’s version of “Bread like Mom used to make” is different. But to offer someone bread is to offer comfort. Familiarity. Family and home. Bread is the simple, understated nourishment of the world. I started thinking about that the other day– just how common bread is, yet just how integral it is to our lives. Around every table, at almost every meal, we have bread in some form. “Breaking bread together” is synonymous with fellowship. Restaurants start you with a bread course as a nod to the hospitality which you are supposed to feel upon entering. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so very intrinsic to everything we do.
About 6 months ago my friend Jacob, a person as close as a brother to me, told me that his dad was going into the hospital for surgery. The surgery was supposed to be fairly straightforward– and we waited to hear that his dad was recovering and able to go home.
But tragedy, like life, is not fair. And six months after the surgery we sat, numb, while Jacob’s father passed away. Everyone was dumbstruck. How could someone so full of life be gone? How could something so positive turn into a nightmare that left his children and wife of almost 50 years sitting there crying in heartbreak and disbelief? How could his family go on without time to say goodbye properly? Is there ever enough time to close a chapter on someone so dear to you? Are there ever adequate words to tell someone so very loved that you can live without him? I don’t think so.
It’s funny how people, like bread, are as common, yet as different as the day is long. Tom Boring was special. He had that special spark that connected with people wherever he went. He could chat as easily with the person standing in line with him at Walmart as he could to the doctors who came in to check on him during his 6 month stay at the hospital.
He loved history– his mind was brilliant and sharp, and he never forgot a name, a date, or a face. He was passionate about the Old West and often enjoyed volunteering as an Old West re-enactor, complete with mustache, hat, and a cold, steely gaze that would have made John Wayne proud.
He took his job as the family patriarch very seriously, taking it upon himself to teach his children and grandchildren about faith, family, and common decency. He was a rare breed– someone who protected children and animals and respected nature and the boundaries set to enjoy it without destroying it.
I wish that I had known Tom. I wish that I could have joked with him about life, or listened to him tell stories about the Old West and his part in the re-enactments. I wish I could have listened to his tales of the many, many interesting things he had done in his life. I wish I could have heard him tell me about his kids, and how proud he was of them. Because, truly, his family was his pride and the joy of his heart.
But I never got a chance to. I never got a chance to meet Tom, because he passed away before I could go out there to meet him. And when he died, so tragically and so unexpectedly, I cried out to God in a sudden, angry burst of tears, “Why?” Why is it that someone so loved and someone so integral to a family, like bread on a table . . . is gone? Why did you take him away? Why do you allow such pain to his family, and to my friend? Why do you allow this, when it would have been so easy for you to stop it? WHY GOD????
And I was angry. I was angry because God could have stopped it, and didn’t. I was angry because my friend was hurting on a level so deep that there was nothing anyone could do to help. I was angry that Tom’s grandchildren were crying and asking about their grandpa, and his wife and children were heartbroken. I cried for his family and friends who were grieving and weeping. I cried for all of them. And one particularly difficult day, imagining all the pain and not being able to think about it one more minute without crying, I went for a long walk.
I walked, and I kicked rocks, and I muttered under my breath to God for quite some time. And God, like the gentleman He is, listened to me without interruption. I told God that I thought it was pretty rotten that good people like Tom have to die, while horrible people like dictators and murderers get to live. I told Him that it was horrible that my friend and his family were in pain, when all they had ever done was try to trust God. I told Him that I was sick of pain and suffering, and I wanted something good to happen. And GOOD GRIEF didn’t He see just how much crap we were all going through down here? Didn’t He see or care? And I burst into tears from a place so deep that I had to lean up against a tree to hold myself steady while the sobs racked by body. Sometimes, they kind of pile up on you– those pains. Those fears. Those tears. And something taps the dam and suddenly it floods the whole valley.
And when I was finally done, and my sobs had turned into sniveling hiccups with the occasional shoulder heave, it was like God reached down and quietly touched my shoulder. Softly. Not with judgement. And He said to me, “Emilie, did it ever occur to you that you aren’t the only one praying to me? That maybe Tom had been praying for a long time for relief from this pain? That perhaps his family had been praying that he would receive whatever was best– that he could finally stop the suffering and the endless needles and treatments and medications that left him a shell of who he was? Did it ever occur to you that sometimes every single path will hurt, and that I choose this hurt to spare you another?”
“Just as you must at times allow pain to come to your children for their good, I must sometimes allow pain into my children’s lives for the greater good. But I see each tear, and I hear each cry. And I care about every single one. And not one whisper of pain goes by without my notice. Not one prayer goes up that I don’t hear. And not one pain is felt without my Spirit hearing it and drawing near to comfort it, if people will just take the time to listen.”
I finished my walk that day, deep in thought. There are times when I, as a parent, have to say no when my children ask me for something. “No, you can’t have that candy before supper. No, you can’t eat grass. No, you can’t put your fork in the light socket, even if it looks like it was made just to fit.” They cry and they fuss. When I take them to the doctor for sickness, they scream and beg to go home. But I have to put them through that, for the greater good. They don’t understand it. It hurts. And it hurts me to see them go through it. But at the end of the day, it is what is best for them, and I do it because I love them– even though I cry through the pain with them.
I think maybe God is a little like that. Each day He fields millions of prayers from people all over the world. He hears prayers as silly as “God please let my team win the Super Bowl!” to prayers as heart-wrenching as a mother praying for the life of her child as she sits desperately beside her baby in the NICU. My Mom used to say, “People think that God isn’t answering their prayers, but really He answers every single one. Sometimes His answer is just “not right now.”
I suppose in our minds, in our strangely child-like brains, we feel that we know best. “OF COURSE this is what to do!” Of course our team should win. Of course I’m right about this. Of course our loved one should come home. And then we are dumbfounded when things don’t work out the way we hoped and prayed and planned that they would. We distrust God and doubt everything we thought we knew.
Prayers. As common as bread. As quietly nourishing to the soul as the most simple, common loaf.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Not for tomorrow. Not for next week.
Just for today. Just the strength for today. I’m too weak and sad and broken to worry about where tomorrow’s strength will come from. Please, Lord, just enough for today. Just exactly enough.
So what do you do when the life that you knew and loved is so changed, that you barely recognize it? What do you do when an anchor in your life is ripped from the very soul, and taken from you? What do you do when tragedies happen, and sadness rushes in like a flood, with grief so strong and thick that you wonder if you will ever surface, or if you will just slowly drown beneath it, your last bits of hope escaping like the precious last bubbles of air?
You remember that daily bread.
You sit down at that table of numbness and grief, and you pull that simple, quiet loaf to yourself. You close your eyes, allowing them to bow with shock and disbelief. How will we go on, Lord? How will we get past this? How?
And then the simple, quiet nourishment of hope– the hope of knowing that Someone bigger than us has this– that He sees each tear, and hears each quiet, sobbing prayer in the night. Quietly we grasp the hope of knowing that He sees, He hears, and He cares. Every single time, every single prayer. He cares.
One prayer at a time, one bite at a time. One quiet, difficult day at a time. Slowly taking in the hope and nourishment of the familiar daily bread. Slowly rebuilding ourselves. Slowly regaining our faith. Slowly finding a reason to see beauty in the ashes again.
Give us this day our daily bread.
One day at a time. Even when all we have left is crumbs. One prayer at a time, when all we can mutter is a cry from our soul, without words. One simple, quiet bite at a time. Hoping. Believing. Living.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.” — Romans 8:38-39
Quiet prayers. Quiet nourishment. Quiet love.
And Tom– we surely do miss you down here.
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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