All he wanted to do was hammer something.
Eli* wasn’t a regular church-goer and wasn’t sure how to find the book of Galatians in his Bible, but he heard there might be an opportunity to build things, so he signed up.
“When are we going to build stuff?” he asked as we settled in for our group devotion.
“Soon,” I said, but I wasn’t sure. Not at all. We were barely 24 hours into the youth-group service trip when I realized things were out of our control. Our group was randomly split up at lunch, placed in prayer groups with people we didn’t know, and assigned to various work-sites without our consent. Clearly, we weren’t in charge.
After his first job without tools, Eli asked, “When will we be able to hammer something?”. This time, instead of reassuring him, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “I don’t know, Eli. I hope tomorrow.”
I walked away from the group, mulling over ways to get a hammer in Eli’s hands. Should I make a special request to the program director? Should I see where he gets placed and ask if I can switch him with someone, if necessary? Maybe I could coach him to position himself so that he’s more likely to get chosen for the building projects…
I considered these options as I walked down the hallway, away from the dormitory floor. The familiar, industrial tile triggered a memory…
Five years ago, I was hustling down a similar tiled hallway to my fourth-grade classroom. It was my second year teaching in a beloved school, and I was energized by the certainty that I had found my life’s calling. I told God as much: “This is it, God. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. If you’re going to ever take this from me, you’re going to have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.”
A year later, I was suddenly called away. No more class lists, lesson plans, or parent-teacher conferences. No more certainty of God’s plan for my life or security about my future.
I thought about what my faith might be like now if God had left me there, relying on my gifts and resources day after day, comfortable and confident… and I shuddered.
When God took away my plan, I learned so much about His. When He moved me away from my strengths, I learned how He works best through weakness.
Sometimes God has to keep the hammer out of our hands for the sake of the building.
I decided not to interfere in what God had planned for Eli or any of the other kids for that week.
Instead of hammering, Eli spent hours in the sun picking up rocks and glass from a stranger’s yard. He mowed lawns for widows. He read books to a 4 year-old girl and taught a 2nd grade boy how to kick a ball. He read the Bible and prayed with new friends. And I realized he stopped asking…
“Sorry you didn’t get to hammer anything, Eli.” I said as we sat, exhausted, on rolled sleeping bags that last morning.
“That’s okay. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was good.”
Not expected, but good. It was a prerequisite lesson from his Pursuer; the foundation for the building to come next.
I looked around at the rest of the group. The unexpected work was also good for Cameron, who insisted at 6:45am every day that he wasn’t a “morning person”, and Katie who “needed” to be in the same group as Abby. It “wasn’t fair” to Rob to clean up messes that he didn’t make, and Jake was sure he would die if he didn’t get an afternoon snack.
He didn’t die.
None of us died. In a hundred little ways, we handed over our hammers and our lives and lived.
This is it, my child. This is what I want you to do for the rest of your life.
And it was good.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
*all names changed
Hammer photo: Adam Sherez
Woodworking photo: Clem Onojeghuo