Looking around the sanctuary five minutes before the end of the service, I realized that my teaching partner was absent. Together we taught scripture stories, distributed snacks and trained a gaggle of three year-olds in toy mediation skills every Sunday.
Realizing she wasn’t there on her designated teaching Sunday typically was not a huge deal. But this day, when my spiritual, emotional and physical cup was not only dry but missing, I panicked.
In the months previous, our “normal” of having one child with special health care needs tripled as two of our typical children were diagnosed with heart issues. We were smack dab in the middle of unknown territory: they were both wearing heart monitors and the prognosis was unknown. My reserves were tapped and I often came to church dry, emotionally crawling and in great need of spiritual nourishment.
Most Sundays, the healing and filling would come during the main service–it could be the words from a hymn, a speaker, an observation, or a feeling but somehow every Sunday I would receive the message, He knows. He knows what’s going on and He loves you.
Sometimes it would be during the opening portion of our children’s church where I got to wrangle the aforementioned pre-preschoolers as we listened and sung sweet songs about Jesus. Through a video, a song or a sweet testimony from the mouth of a child, the message would come, He knows. He loves you. You can do this.
On that particular Sunday, I was so, so frayed and dried up. I didn’t get my “filling message” the first or even the second hour.
I wasn’t prepared to teach our third hour (where the children are in our classroom) due to the circumstances, but I quickly threw together a simple lesson using our hands to teach the assigned scripture story.
We sat in the corner of the classroom on an obnoxiously-colored patchwork polyester blanket that my grandmother pieced together, and I told them the story of the widow of Zarephath. (Watch a video here or read the account here (1 Kings 17) if you’re scratching your head on the back story.)
I told them about a destitute woman and her son who had barely any food and were eating their last meal. She welcomed the prophet Elijah into her home and he asked for food that was not only scarce but the very last drops of oil and the last bit of meal. He asked for her last.
With faith, she received him, she prepared and she gave and a miracle happened.
We were acting out making the little cakes with oil and meal and cooking them in our little imaginary pans and their eyes were so shocked that the oil and grain never ran out. And there, on a polyester blanket, while staring into the eyes of five adorable children, it hit me.
Widow of Zarephath, by James Johnson
And as the words came from my lips and I gave my last ounces of energy and imagination by saying, “The Lord made it full! He knew what she needed and it was filled! It was a miracle!” it was as if time stopped and I felt it. He knows. He knows you’re empty. He knows you are spent but if you keep going, keep trying, keep doing–He will supply. He will fill. He will make you whole. Over and over again.
I will never forget that moment. Staring into shocked and in-awe eyes of the children who let me learn and feel while teaching them. It was a sacred moment.
I was the widow of Zarephath, giving my last drops of faith and energy and I was reminded, strengthened and filled.
He might ask for all but He also gives all.
Postscript: I fully realize that it is not wise advice to fanatically or regularly give your last drop of energy. I am not prescribing that any of us let our souls get that close to the edge. I give a lot and I feed my soul generously to compensate. This particular instance was rare and rough. It is not a badge of courage to deplete your soul, heart and health on purpose or in order to appear more than you are or in the unholy pursuit of constant busyness. If you are on that intentional course and see your reserves dropping precipitously low, pause and fill. Pause and fill.