Psalm 103’s reminder that we are dust invites us to see our embrace of vulnerability as a gift, a place we can encounter God.
Embracing this vulnerability means embracing your need for others to get through difficult times. In my own life, when I lost my wife of 12 years, it was the way in which others showed up in my life – friends, family, the many hands and voices that make up my own church community – that enabled me to have the strength to put one foot in front of the other and not only not give up on life but embrace life again. In one of my darkest moments I turned to a couple who was a rock solid support to me in those days and said “I cannot feel or hear God, and have trouble believing anything. And yet I look, and there you two ladies are: loving and supporting me, showing up. And that is enough. You are enough of God to me.” These people were my anchor and the life line I clung to in such moments. And yet even when I began to embrace life again as a gift, I found myself feeling insecure and uncertain, not steady on my feet. In my circle of friends, family, and church family again and again I found people whose listening ear and whose voice of support reminded me that though I had trouble believing in myself, these people believed in me. Their faith in me, their trust that my life could recover and blossom again, and their repeated claim that not only could this happen but I deserved it, gave me the confidence to embrace life again for myself. To accept this support I had to admit I could not do it on my own. Such admission is accepting limitation and vulnerability as gift.
Accepting vulnerability also means embracing it is not all up to you in another way. To our feelings that our failures and situations doom us or determine our fate, so that it all is up to us, Scripture beautifully sends another message:
“26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
“28 We know that all things work together for good[u] for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.[v] 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 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? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
“37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)
Ultimately we will encounter moments we do not know even what to pray, let alone have the wisdom on our own to know the way through the dark maze our lives can appear to be in difficult situations. We can lack the strength to make it through. When we face situations that leave us feeling our lives are beyond our pay grade, we can know that ultimately it is not all up to us.
There is a Sacred presence, an all-encircling love which surrounds each of our days, which is also at work in our lives. Recognizing our limitations and vulnerabilities can feel at points like admitting powerlessness. But this is not the true message of vulnerability. Ultimately we have a great deal of power, influence, and impact on our lives and others. But there is only so much we can do.
Ultimately we are co-creators, working together with God to shape and guide our lives and world. Our gifts, talents, ideas, experiences, all enable us to build beauty, touch others, bring healing, create wonderful things in so many ways. The ways in which others’ care for me helped me renew my own faith and love for life, carrying me through the darkness, shows the power each of us have as co-creators to shape the world for good. Recognizing our vulnerability and weakness doesn’t invalidate that. But it does recognize what one of my first mentors in faith and ministry told me: “You can hold somebody’s hand. You can listen to their struggle, be a shoulder to cry on. But you can never be their Savior”.
Ultimately, for all we can do, there is much we cannot do. There is much in our lives and others’ lives which has to be trusted into the hands of God. When we have done all we can, we are called to learn to trust there is another shaping and guiding our days who will perfect, complete, and even correct the ways we have worked in this world. Ultimately even that One’s correction is for our good, as it is motivated by love.
The reason these ashes were a gift is that in the face of pain and illness, we realize the rest that comes in realizing it is not all on our shoulders, but rather when we have done all we can, there is a rest in laying our burdens that still remain on God. When we learn that lesson fully we no longer need to be in pain to live out Jesus’ call to “28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11).
May we embrace our vulnerability, the gift of dust and ashes together.
Your progressive redneck preacher,