No magic pebbles
One of my children’s favorite books is called Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. It tells of Sylvester, a donkey, who finds a red magic pebble that makes wishes come true. It’s all fun and games until Sylvester wishes himself to be a rock, in order to escape a lion. He turns into a rock and the magic pebble just inches away. With little chance anyone would ever find that pebble and then wish a boulder to be a donkey, Sylvester despairs. And so, “he was scared and worried. Being helpless, he felt hopeless.”
“Being helpless, he felt hopeless.” There is such truth to this simple and heartbreaking sentence. None of us has been turned into rock, but most of us know the kind of despair that grows when we feel helpless.
It might be the helplessness that comes when you can’t fix the pain of your loved one’s broken heart, or chronic disease, or persistent mental illness. Maybe you feel powerless against the tide of xenophobia that has spread across our beloved country, or unable to do anything to stop the all-too-frequent acts of gun violence. There are so many situations that bring about this helpless, hopeless feeling.
In these moments, I’m convinced that doing even one small act of goodness can revive our hope. We can act our way out of despair, one small work of love at a time. You might not be able to change a diagnosis, but you can show up with cookies and company during chemo. You might not eliminate all hate, but you can live with courageous kindness. These acts are transformative, not just because they do something for others, but in the doing itself, we are reminded of own capacity.
After all, we are not motionless rocks. We are human beings with strong hearts, with many gifts and a whole lot of power, especially when we work together. And there are no magic pebbles, no quick fixes and easy answers. Instead, because of Jesus, we have hope. We can trust that today is not the end of the story. Our future is full of all kinds of unknown possibilities. As Paul wrote, “For hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Romans 8:24).
Sylvester eventually became a donkey again, in part because of the love of his parents, who didn’t give up on him. Even in the hardest of moments, we can decide not to quit on each other. As people of faith, we must choose not to be defeated by despair. Instead we doggedly hope for, and act to create, a future that is full of abundant life for everyone.