Last week the Preschool in my church started back to school. It was a great time as the formerly vacant wing was now bustling with children and excitement. Things were going along with great enthusiasm and relative ease when one of the parents noticed that two baby squirrels had been knocked out of one of the trees in front of the school by the wind. They were laying on the ground and there was concern for their health and safety. Animal Control was immediately called, but there was uncertainty in the air as the teachers and staff awaited their arrival. I was coming down the hallway when I was told about the squirrels. I went outside to see what was going on. They looked like this:
(Image courtesy of sandeedee.blogspot.com)
I could immediately see that one of the squirrels was not doing well. It was curled up on its side and with labored breathing that was not even. The other squirrel began to crawl around. I was worried that it would crawl into the street just a couple of feet away, or get trampled upon, so I decided that we had better wrangle these squirrels in the gentlest way possible. No one seemed inclined to do it, so I asked for gloves and something to put them in. One of the teachers ran to get a shoe box with fresh tissue paper while the director grabbed latex gloves for me. As I put those gloves on my hands, it occurred to me that while I had no training and no real qualification to do this, I was about to become an ad hoc squirrel handler. This is hardly the first time I have found myself immersed in situations that arise around me suddenly. They require action and calm and somehow that falls to me more than I would like. Perhaps it is because I am a pastor and that means I possess some level of authority.
Either way, before I could think about it much more, I was picking up the crawling squirrel and placing it in the box, covering him gently with tissue paper, and turning my attention to the other squirrel. This squirrel was looking worse by the minute. He was already getting stiff and I could see no evidence of breathing. I picked him up and could immediately tell that he had passed away. I look at the teacher who was standing next to me. She was teary eyed. I was suddenly very focused upon her; I wanted to make sure what I did next would be comforting to her. I could have done any number of things, such as hold an impromptu funeral, simply say a prayer, or quietly dispose of the body. It wasn’t until after I was able to determine that she was perfectly all right with a discreet disposal of the body with my private blessing that I realized how important it had been for me to meet her needs. We focused our attention then on the remaining squirrel who was moving around in the shoe box. Animal Control showed up and offered us great hope that the squirrel would be just fine. Apparently this sort of thing – squirrels falling out of trees – happens all the time. So much so in fact that the local SPCA has a squirrel rehab facility that the woman from Animal Control was going to take the squirrel to right then.
We shared the good news with those that were aware of the animal drama which had been unfolding outside. People were saddened by the death of the one squirrel, but uplifted at the prospective full recovery of the other. Me? I was busy thinking about how quickly I seemed to fade completely into the background when that first squirrel died. What I wanted was completely immaterial to me. All that mattered in that moment was the woman beside me and what she needed. I was consumed with meeting her needs in that instance.
I think we fail to realize how often God is in that mode with us. God, all powerful and all knowing, looks upon us with great care and concern. God is totally consumed with our idiosyncratic needs. What may be so peculiar to each of us is of great importance to God. In the miraculous mode God so often employs, God then uses ordinary people to accomplish so many of the things that need to be done so needs can be met. Whatever it was that I was going to do for that teacher was not about my glory, my ability, or my superior state as pastor. It was about a Christian trying to embody the Spirit of God for another person in their time of need. I see it all the time. Nurses who take that extra minute to talk to their patient like a human being instead of a dehumanized subject. Teachers who offer their extra attention to the child who doesn’t get enough at home. The man who works a full time job but still goes out each month to do mission work with the poor and the marginalized because he takes the Gospel to heart. In those precious moments that the world passes over, God is working through regular human beings to provide something so precious, what is becoming exceedingly rare: attention and acknowledgment. When I looked at the woman beside me, emotion on her face and sadness in her eyes, I was aware that there was something bigger than myself, more important than what was easiest for me. That’s what Christianity is about; being a conduit for God. We accomplish that by lessening the emphasis upon ourselves, what we want, and what is easiest or most convenient. God is always ready to meet needs. Unfortunately, we are not always willing to let ourselves be part of that glorious unfolding. That afternoon I was, and it was amazing to have been part of something as simple as caring for God’s creation and comforting those who mourn. You never know when those opportunities will arise again, but, if you are willing, God is ever ready to call upon you next.