I used to teach first grade Sunday school with an elderly man named Mr. Chang who really should have been assigned to a room with his contemporaries. He was gruff, gray, and used a cane. He viewed crayons, stickers, and glitter pens as superfluous. And when he gave his mini-lessons, there was nothing mini about them. The man could talk. We co-teachers were in crowd control mode (and also cane-watch lest he whack a bored-out-of-his-mind 7-year-old.)
But one thing Mr. Chang did in that room has stayed with me all these years. It was over the heads of first graders but maybe a smidgen stayed with them as well.
He had the class memorize the 23rd psalm. The King James version, complete with thee’s and thou’s and verbs ending with “eth”. Mr Chang always said there would come a time in each of our lives when all we could muster would be phrases from the 23rd psalm — assuming the words had been drummed into us by a cranky octogenarian (he was probably in his 50s; his curmudgeon style made him old from the git-go.)
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou annointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I have not traversed the valley of the shadow of death. But I have had shadow experiences. And for decades I have employed a simple practice to relinquish them to the shepherd.
It’s called a “God bank” (not my idea). You write prayer requests on scraps of paper and “deposit” them in the bank — a simple box. This physical act reminds you of how little you control in your life.
Being a sheep and all.
Sometime my scraps reflect daily shadows – an evaluation by a principal, that behaviour student derailing my carefully constructed lesson plans, travel logistics. Other shadows are gut level. The death of a loved one, the restoration of a relationship, the management of a chronic disease, a bout with depression, an eating disorder, broken bones, a heart attack.
My scraps go from a small box to a desk drawer – a visual confirmation that my cup runneth over.
So, shadows never cease, life being life — but along the way they do give way to the sun — tables set just for you — banquets even — joys unspeakable and answers to prayer that reveal the shepherd’s fingerprints.
Surely Mr. Chang is now dwelling in the house of the Lord, cane and all.
And someday I will thank-eth him face to face.