That was the name of the little old lady in our church by the sea, with its hopeful and humble congregation of thirty or forty believers. We met weekly in a small, modest bowling green at Waihi Beach in New Zealand. According to our bulletin sheets, we were supposed to begin our one Sunday service at 10am but more often than not the religious duties would only begin once everyone had arrived to enjoy a cup of english breakfast tea and a catch up around the pool table in the front room that served as a foyer.
In her 80’s, June would faithfully come on her own every week to our haphazard meetings. She had either lost her husband very early on in life, or had never married – I can’t remember. But she was always there to encourage and welcome everyone with a smile, and pray with such humble, knowing trust. There was a quiet depth and authenticity about her that carried the weight of years of walking with Jesus. Yet she was never intimidating or self righteous. She would sit with her walking stick when she couldn’t stand, but regardless of her stance, she reflected a friendship with Him that shone out through her clear, wrinkle-bordered blue eyes. I had no idea what she’d been through in her life – all I knew was that she possessed something deep within her that was authentic and I was drawn to it, to her. Looking back, I’m only just realising now how much influence she had upon me, as a young girl. (Often we don’t realise the value that the people around us actually add to our lives until they are no longer there).
One Sunday, June did something that I will never forget.
She stood up during a time of personal sharing we were having and slowly and surely shuffled to the front of the church, leaning on her walking stick. Despite her stooped shoulders and less enthusiastic limbs, there was a calm dignity about her. (There is beauty in such dignity that radiates through any physical layers one may possess, whether they be alluring and youthful or wrinkled and worn. True beauty begins on the inside, in the deepest of unseen places.) Clutched in her hand was a small sum of money, and I remember what she did with it next, as clear as day: she held it out, palm up, so that the coins lay in her slightly trembling hand. “I have five dollars here” she said, softly but seriously. June didn’t speak often, but when she did have something to say, we listened. There was an authority in her words that commanded attention.”It’s not much, but if you want it, it’s yours.” And she held her hand out further, slowly turning along the half circle of curious congregation members, inviting.
No one moved.
I think we were trying to assess whether she was trying to teach a principle, or whether she was genuinely offering the money; or maybe both. Either way, we were not used to such forthrightness, especially in church! Why was she doing this?! Whatever the reason, I remember June’s elderly fingers were extended towards us for an unusually long time as we analysed her every move. The silence in the room was loaded. But she didn’t waver. “Who wants it?” She repeated, waiting. You could have heard a pin drop. I was a teenager at the time, and I remember thinking of all the things five dollars could purchase for lunch. After all, my parents were often short of money because they had eight kids that constantly needed feeding (and you’d be surprised at what five dollars could do at the local Fish n’ Chip shop!) But I stayed glued to my seat nevertheless, too self-conscious to put up my hand. A few more seconds ticked by, and it became clear that June’s offer was not going to be withdrawn. Finally, someone stood up and said they would take the coins – I believe more out of pity for the old woman than anything else. In a small church, you eventually get to know everyone’s life stories and genealogies, and I knew the person who accepted her gift certainly didn’t need an extra $5. But June was up to something. She straightened with a knowing smile and leaned on her cane a little heavily, as if the effort of holding out her hand for so long had been more than exhausting. “You see” she said in her quiet, confident way. “You can’t receive… until you’re bold enough to ask. Unless you really want what I’m offering”.
June’s principle helped me to understand a very important truth that day. A truth that I am still learning to outwork in my life now. Receiving can be easier said than done. Receiving from other people, yes: because it takes an honest assessment of your vulnerabilities to put up your hand. But also receiving from the God who loves you more than you could actually grasp. He stands as June did, but instead of a few humble coins, His pierced hands stretch out to humanity offering the greatest gift of all: Salvation. It shines through His healed-wounds, the holes that prove the lengths he went to to be able to extend this Salvation gift to us, at every moment that we draw breath. It contains everything we could ever truly need– healing, wisdom, grace, faith, safety, certainty, hope, restoration, forgiveness, purpose, overwhelming peace and the surest love. Oh, if only we would receive what he offers, without reserve, without analysing and supposing and assessing! If we would simply and honestly just… accept.
–“Who wants it?”–
Thinking back, I’ve often pondered the initial response that June was met with when she offered her coins, including my own. Isn’t it ironic? We are sometimes quicker to be suspicious of someone who is simply being generous, than to accept the gift that is offered without reserve. In our coming-of-age, have we become so accustomed to ulterior motives in our dealings with others, we cannot trust pure generosity for what it is any more, like we did when we were children? All those times I was sternly but lovingly warned by my parents– “Darling, remember not to take lollies from strangers!” as I was innocently skipping out the door to get lost in blissful adventures. Prone to trusting anyone and everyone. Or is it something else altogether that prevents us from openly and honestly receiving? Fear, maybe. A lack of courage to make public a deep personal need. “Children should be seen and not heard” might have been the phrase ringing throughout your upbringing. Or maybe, if we seem too keen to accept things, we would be perceived as lazy or… a bit of a freeloader. No one wants to be that person. Which causes me to wonder why we go to such lengths to cover up our weaknesses in the first place. Why does human nature seem to operate by the unspoken law of self-preservation? Why do we fight to achieve a polished, need-less reputation whatever the cost, even if it means on the surface we’re succeeding but on the inside we’re a crumpled, insecure mess? And why has self-sufficiency been made the human goal anyway? To keep us from getting hurt, or broken? We all know that hurt and pain are a pretty big reality in our world at the moment. Innocent people are taken advantage of, daily. Why is admitting our need such a difficult thing to do? When we all feel the ache of common human frailty surfacing at the most inconvenient of times: Insecurity. Fear. Hopelessness. Doubt. Lack of purpose. Rejection. Addiction. Loneliness. That sense of not being good enough, pretty enough, intelligent enough relevant enough or socially eloquent enough, like the other 95% of the world.
You may think you’re the only one, but I can promise you, you’re not.
On that Sunday I was in need of $5, but I stayed glued to my seat nonetheless. It’s not that I didn’t need the money, I just wasn’t bold or humble enough – or both! – to put my hand up and accept it.
I’ve learned, since witnessing June’s illustration that day, that in order to receive, you must be bold or courageous enough to put up your hand and acknowledge that you are in lack; and to receive, you must be humble enough to accept a gift you may not have asked for, but truly need. Like a child, trusting and dependent upon its parents’ judgement. There will be those who say, “well, because of their innocence, children are also taken advantage of by careless or neglectful parents”. And that is sadly true. But that is also where the Father is different. He does not take advantage of us. And there is a lesson we can learn from a child’s unconditional trust, a lesson we must learn, in order to receive the thing that will save us. Because we cannot save ourselves. And where humanity often fails, this magnificent Father in heaven does not, and never will. He asks us to trust innocently and unconditionally, like a child – not so he can take advantage of us, or neglect us, but because he created us, and longs to reveal to our doubtful and suspicious souls just how good he is, through and through. How faithful, and how utterly trustworthy. There is no shadow or imperfection in Him. And it is only when we do trust him unconditionally that we can receive all that he has for us, and experience the freedom that His truth releases. For he will not force it upon us if we are not willing. One who is trying to win the love of another will patiently and steadily pursue – he will not frighten or force his way in if he wants his love to be recognised as the true and deep love that it is.
Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
– Luke Chapter 18, verses 16 & 17-
Some of the most profound truths in life will come through the most ordinary, ‘unlikely’ looking people. The God of the Bible has a history of using the least likely individuals to trust with his presence and authority, for in His kingdom the “least shall be the greatest” – those less concerned with perfecting their own image and are more deeply enamoured with allowing their personal imperfections and vulnerabilities to reflect His grace and perfection. In his books, gifts are given according to one’s receptivity – not extensive qualifications. This explains why it can be hard to understand Salvation, and the fact that it is not a reward to earn for the people with the best behaviour, but a gift extended to even those with the worst. Because it is an unconditional gift. I promise you, as soon as you put up your hand to accept, you will find yourself in possession of the greatest treasure there is to discover; the greatest hope, the greatest satisfaction, the most abundant life.
This is the Good News.
So the question remains —
“Who wants it?”