I slipped into the pew next to my family and concealed a cup of water below as my wife gave me a look that told me I had better have a pretty good explanation for this cute stunt. I did, of course. I have good explanations for all my cute stunts, but my wife doesn’t always appreciate the cuteness that has blessed her.
“It’s for the kids.” I whispered as the pastor started the morning prayers.
“What?” she asked, as her forehead formed enough troughs to bring a bumper crop of frowns.
My 10-year-old is always begging us for a drink of water during the sermon, so I figured I’d be prepared. Why do sermons make kids thirsty? This is a theological question with which theologians all over the world grapple.
It’s an intra-denominational question. If a Baptist preacher preaches twice as long as the Methodist pastor, shouldn’t it logically follow that the Methodist kids would ask for half as much water?
“No,” says my Methodist friends, but their children do ask to go the bathroom twice as much. None of it makes sense, but I was hoping that the cup of water might mean a strategic breakthrough in this conundrum.
“This is for when she asks to get a drink,” I explained. My wife just stared back at me. I was sure she was trying to formulate the words to congratulate me for my brilliance, so I continued to elucidate.
“She is always getting the hiccups,” I added. “This way she doesn’t have to stomp her way though the pew to get to the drinking fountain.”
I figured this was my way of helping God’s message to be heard by the parishioners. I’m figuring – it is those annoying interruptions that keep us from hearing what God is trying to say. I figured that if I could remove this annoyance, my wife and I would better enjoy the sermon.
To most of us hiccups are just a minor annoyance, but to the patient I met in our pre-surgery, this minor annoyance had become a major interruption to her quality of life.
“Pre-surg” is a place I often hover on early mornings looking for people facing serious surgery without the benefit of pastoral support. I don’t usually spend much time with those who are doing quick and simple outpatient procedures, as was this woman.
The nurse practitioner inserted a tube though her nose and down into her stomach. The patient would wear a monitoring devise for a few days and carefully recorded all she ate. The devise would hopefully tell the doctor what kinds of activity were causing the digestive reactions that triggered the hiccups.
As simple as the procedure would be for the patient, it was her life that had unraveled by this annoying reflex for the past two years. She and her husband had a good marriage and were active in a faith community, but a minor annoyance was threatening torpedo everything they had together.
As I spoke with her husband, I learned of the countless hours of interrupted sleep she had experienced. Sleeplessness became fertile ground for depression and depression sprouted hopelessness in every area of her life. Causing much the same stress that chronic snoring has been known to cause, this was infinitely worse because it was chronic day and night.
The woman looked tired and would barely speak to me, so her husband did all the talking. He talked about the missed opportunities that this problem had caused in their lives and about how a small annoyance had mushroomed into something so fatiguing that it threatened to dwarf the joy found in 28 years of marriage.
As I look at my own life, I know I carry an armament of defenses against the major enemies of happiness. I know I can spend a lot of time trying to mentally toughen my soul in preparation in anticipation of some nebulous life-altering event. I obsess over what it might feel like to lose a child.
We all do it. We think about what we might do if our spouse asked us for a divorce or our boss gave us a pink slip. We obsess over the monumental worst case scenarios that plague victims all over the world.
But the truth is the major things we worry about seldom happen to us.
We spend hours vitalizing our defenses against the possibility of a cataclysmic failure, and we fail to see how devastating the little things can be on our lives. Marriages more often fail because over the poor respect we pay each other from day-to-day more than they fail over affairs.
To defend ourselves from all these cataclysmic possibilities, we often tell ourselves and others to “trust in God,” but it seems to me the trust has to begin with the little things. We pray for protection before we take a big trip or make a big decision, but we forgot to ask God for help in the little daily annoyances in our lives.
Jobs are more often lost over the daily office relationships than they are from corporate takeovers or bankruptcy. Children are more often permanently scarred through the daily insults parents hurl on them than by rarity of a stranger abduction. It is the little things.
So, this past Sunday, I figured that I was prepared for the little things With my glass of water, I was even thinking that with Father’s day coming up soon, this little act of kindness might actually get me a nice tie this year.
Looking down at the cup and its proximity to my daughter’s swinging feet, my wife whispered through clinched teeth, “She’s going to kick it over.” That was my first clue that my brilliance was not as obvious to her as it was to me.
I took the cup in my hand, gave my wife a glare, and downed the contents, safely removing it from harms way of the swinging foot.