Live and Learn
The return of Vacation Bible School at St. Paul this week takes me back two years to my first one here. I was only three weeks into my position and hardly knew anyone. Frankly, the hundreds of people – small and large – who swarmed through the various activity stations were pretty overwhelming. I knew there was little chance of getting to know most of the participants personally in that format. I settled on a way to be friendly, engaged, encouraging, and positive: I high-fived whole classes of children, one by one, as we passed one another.
It seemed like such a good idea. It wasn’t. I ended the week with a case of pinkeye that took weeks to resolve.
I think of this episode in light of a psalm that many of us may be reading today and into the weekend, Psalm 30. It is the designated psalm for daily Bible reading this week, as printed in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship book (page 1137, if you’re curious). One verse in the psalm reads:
“By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed” (verse 7).
How confident I was that I had come up with a great plan for navigating the confusing, challenging experience of that VBS! Had not God set me up as a strong mountain? Was I not doing my absolute best, given my circumstances, to be the pastor and teacher, and leader that I wanted to be? Perhaps I did forget about bacterial spread and ignored best practices for hand washing. Wasn’t I doing what God would want me to do with all of these, God’s children?
Well, yes; I guess so. But God was not going to protect me from the foolishness and error of my approach. Like any of us when we see the inevitable about to happen, one could say that God looked away to avoid seeing the train wreck I was creating. The natural consequences followed and, yes, to be sure, I was dismayed!
Such are our ways sometimes. Our best intentions do not come to fruition. The knowledge we bring to a situation is not enough to handle it well. Even with the confidence that God has made us “as a strong mountain,” we fall short of living well, and rightly. Yet we have the opportunity again to live and learn. We can live through our error and learn from it, grow from our experience, and live better moving forward.
We can face our shortcomings and failures with a rueful confidence about doing better the next time because God stays with us, even when God can’t bear to watch what we’re doing. The psalmist knows this: “God’s anger is but for a moment; God’s favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (verse 5). In a world where error, sin, and suffering are sadly inevitable, I thank God that we can live and learn.