Tiny Toads and Big Skies

Tiny Toads and Big Skies

A week ago I walked head back to receive an expansive blue sky spread wide over a meadow-panorama of tall grasses studded with morning glories.

A week ago, I bent low over a muddy pond edge to scoop up a thumbnail-sized brown toad, marveling up close over its tiny bright eyes, diminutive spots, and four impossibly small toadĀ feet.

A week ago, I tugged the long pistil from a honeysuckle blossom to taste the sweetness of a single, perfect drop of nectar on my waiting tongue.

honeysuckle 2In the country, it seems, things are both bigger and smaller than they are elsewhere.

Big skies, open fields, majestic oaks so thick we’d have to join several sets of hands to hug them all the way ’round. Tiny gem-like wildflower blossoms, subtle fragrances, quiet, far-off whippoorwill calls. The country woos me with her large and showy and her quiet and small.

She does them both so very well.

In some ways, it reminds me of a sermon I recently heard. The pastor mentioned two seemingly opposite but parallel threads that run through the Bible — grace and responsibility.

{So, this tension between opposites plays out not only in nature, but in Christianity too.}

meadow

He assures us, that, yes, they can co-exist. They don’t have to cancel each other out. The Bible isn’t all grace, nor is it all responsibility.

If it were all about grace, we’d never take up our crosses and follow Him, we’d never stretch ourselves, we’d never grow, we’d never experience the closeness God desires for us. We’d continue along with our checkbox religion, putting tick marks in front of go-to-church-on-Sunday and say-grace-at-meals. We’d go through the motions once a week and then continue on with our comfy, secular lives because if it’s all grace, then, really, what does it matter?

If it were all about responsibility, we’d quickly grow discouraged trying to serve a stern, never-good-enough God whose standards of perfection we could never hope to attain. We’d fall down and decide never to get back up because it would be simply hopeless. We wouldn’t have a Savior who holds out His hand to help us back up, whether we deserve it or not.

morning gloryWhile this theology tidbit was shared in a sermon whose main subject was something else, I can’t stop thinking about it. That tension between grace and responsibility, the acceptance that two seemingly opposite concepts can run side by side throughout our Christian lives — well, it’s what I’ve been searching for.

I’ve spent time in Responsibility churches and they drove me out into the world, rather than closer to God. And I’ve spent time in Grace churches, and they made me feel comfortable and complacent and didn’t push me to grow. Church was either a slap in the face or a pat on the back, and, frankly, neither fit.

Since I know that a life — or a church — that falls too heavily on either path doesn’t work for me, how do I embrace this holy paradox? How do I walk two paths at the same time? How do I know what percentage grace and what percentage responsibility I need?

***

At the farm, I help Dad drape green mesh over the entire blueberry patch to protect the ripening berries. The berries have just started to darken, a few blue-black orbs tucked amongst the green, and the birds are ready to eat their fill.

So we take the flexible green netting and drape it over the trellising already in place for the berries {wooden crosses with thick wire strung between them}. “Wait,” Dad says before we get started. He takes a tool to the gear at the end of the wood post and ratchets it down so the wire is nice and taut — our scaffolding is ready.

jasper field

If we loosen up either end too much, the wire collapses and is useless. If we tighten either end too much, the wire breaks, and the whole thing falls down.

Isn’t that kind of like our dual lives of grace and responsibility? Some days we may need to ratchet down the grace end, while other days, if we’re honest, it’s time to tighten up on responsibility.

I don’t know how to do this dual grace-responsibility life, so I scramble to figure it out. Take this away, add this in here; do this, don’t do that. And, I quickly find I’m playing God– rather than praying to God. I realize there is no easy five-step method for balancing grace and responsibility {though I wish there were}.

It’s not about our perfect performance asĀ much as it’s about walking these parallel paths with Him;
it’s about relationship …
about learning to desire Him as He desires us …
about knowing that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways — and learning to sit with that, even if we can’t fully comprehend it.

thumbnail frog 2Back at the pond, I’m on the hunt for wild black raspberries. It’s too early, and I only find green cluster after green cluster. I ramble along the woods edge, a lush, large growth of honeysuckle and wild berry vine {and probably poison ivy}, searching for a tiny black gem. Finally, I uncover just three ripe berries, tucked under some leaves.

I tuck one, then two, into my mouth and relish the tiny explosion of sweetness.