Children loved to hear the invitation to gather “in the front” of the sanctuary during worship. They scrambled up the aisles to gather around as I sat on the altar steps. The adults in their pews also were eager to listen in to the Scripture story I was about to tell. As the children pressed in from every side, I suddenly, but quite gently, felt someone’s hands on my shoulder. They were warm, firm, caring . . . and small. I glanced over to see four-year-old Caroline, standing behind me, listening, and loving me. It was, after all, a place to stand, and to see. Did she know, could she understand, that she was caring for me?
When was the last time someone put hands on your shoulders? A parent saying, “I’m proud of you!” A teacher saying, “I know you can do it!” It seems we should grow out of the need for such hands. But we don’t.
How often our shoulders tense with worrisome burdens of people depending upon our words, our organizational skills, our “doing.” Being a responsible, dependable adult is a joy. But we also continue to need affirming, empathizing caring hands on our shoulders.
Christians may think of Lent as a time of giving up pleasures, of self-sacrifice, or of not giving in to temptations. But even such focus on self, rather than on Christ, may be one of three temptations. First is to believe that “I am able; therefore, I only am able.” The second is, “I am the most able; others will not do the job as well.” Thereby we cut ourselves off from the gifts of the community. The third is, “I must care for everyone.” I try to be the omnipresent parent, the omniscient teacher, and finally omnipotent. But who am I to play God?
We need the suffering servant, Jesus. At the very moment when our belief in ourselves which is self-trust, self-sufficiency, pride, or despair, is exposed, Christ already is there to love and sustain. Sometimes Jesus nourishes in surprising, spontaneous ways and sometimes through ongoing ministering servants in our lives.
The God who made us the capable people we are and gave us all those responsibilities, wants to love and care, guide and fill us with Christ’s servant self. God’s hands are gentle and steadying. Sometimes they may feel like small hands, but they are always big enough.