Two small nails

Pastoral Messages | September 8, 2022

Two small nails – that’s all it was. And neither one went into the wall easily. One resisted but finally settled in with just a bit of a bend in it, nicely positioned to hold a memorial plaque. The other bent more dramatically and stopped penetrating the wall, but still was able to support a small art print as planned. Three years after moving into my office, those two pieces of wall décor have finally moved from sitting on a shelf to hanging on the wall above it. And it only took two small nails to get it done.

It’s hard to describe, let alone explain, the complex reactions I have to this minor housekeeping task. Irony, to be sure – that something so simple could be so long in the planning, remembering, forgetting, remembering again, putting off, and finally doing. Joy, as well – the plaque and the print do sit handsomely on the wall; they make the memories and relationships that attach to them more accessible, too. Relief – that’s one “to-do” that can be crossed off the list. Frustration – why do I let such little things linger so, taking up energy and mental space and emotional bandwidth even when I’m not aware of it? 

Some years ago, I learned about the Menehune of Hawai’ian lore. They are a (perhaps) mythical community of “little people” living in the dense forests and deep valleys of the islands. They have remarkable powers and are reputed to have been master builders whose work always was accomplished at night, so no one would see them. In our family, when there are tasks that need doing and they just don’t seem to get done, it’s common to ask, “where are the Menehune when we need them?”

I’m not sure about the psychology of all this, but I am aware of a spiritual dimension in it. My life with God and others is littered with unfinished business. The press of everyday life and its responsibilities makes it inevitable that some conversations, some friendships, some kindnesses, some service, some devotions simply will not get the attention they need and deserve. I trust and live in the grace of those who understand my human limitations and forgive the lapses, but I am still aware of them. It feels like I need spiritual Menehune to run around at night, building up and finishing what I have left incomplete in my life.

Thankfully, there are “two small nails” that do even more than the Menehune could. One is scripture, where the promises of God give assurance. “Let me never be put to shame,” pleads the psalmist (71:1) and then encourages us, “Cast your burden on the Lord, who will sustain you” (55:22). As if in reply, Isaiah announces, “I am your God; I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you” (41:10). What I am not able to do, God brings to a good outcome – not just to make me feel good, but for the sake of the world. 

The other “small nail” is prayer. How often it can calm my heart to lift a brief prayer to God in the midst of my anxieties and frustration. I don’t even necessarily ask for anything in particular, or even have words for the moment. Rather, I trust that “the Spirit steps in with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Ah, the sighs – of irony, joy, relief, frustration, and more, carrying my heartfelt desires and hopes to a God who promises to hear, to act, and to fulfill.

-Peter A. Pettit, teaching pastor

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