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Gratitude and Spaghetti Sauce
When I got home from work, I was already feeling pretty "grey." I'm not quite sure what it was, but there seemed to be this fog, this mental haziness, that was pulling me down. I was fighting it. At the same time, I was in a hurry to make dinner as I have band practice at 7:00 on Tuesday evenings, which doesn't leave a whole lot of time for preparing and eating a meal. I decided on spaghetti as my quick and easy solution. There was an open jar of spaghetti sauce in the fridge with just enough left for one person, plus I was sure there was another, unopened jar somewhere in the kitchen. I had seen it just the other day.
As I was pulling out the noodles, my roommate arrived home, so I asked if he'd like some spaghetti too. He happily agreed. I got the water boiling, he went upstairs, and I started searching the kitchen for that stray jar of spaghetti sauce. I looked and looked. I opened every single cupboard, every single cabinet, every single drawer. I stood on chairs to get better vantage points. I double checked. I triple checked. I did find a tiny, 8 oz. can of store-brand tomato sauce, but I was looking for the 45 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce, loaded full of meat and vegetables. I just knew I had seen it!
"Wait!" I stopped myself. I knew how to handle this; I could pray. God was there. I stopped frantically looking around, sat down, and started to pray. "Father, I can't find this spaghetti sauce for the life of me. I promised my roommate I would make him spaghetti but there isn't enough here for the both of us. Please help!" I declared this was a right, honest activity, so God would help me. A lot of familiar Bible stories came to mind, like the one about the woman who poured out jars of oil and they miraculously just kept pouring, and the one about how Jesus fed thousands of people with only a handful of bread and fish. I had no confidence whatsoever that anything quite so miraculous could happen to me, but I was hopeful that I would at least hear some intuition that would tell me to look in a spot I hadn't already checked.
The trouble was, as far as I knew, there weren't any spots left. I had already "left no stone unturned." So I wanted divine assistance. And in my heart, it was more than just about finding a jar of spaghetti sauce. What I was really yearning for was to feel closer to God, because frankly He felt leagues away. To me, that jar of spaghetti sauce represented an acknowledgment that I wasn't trudging through life alone, that I hadn't been forsaken, and that I wasn't stuck. I didn't want to come up with any ideas of my own; I wanted it to be unmistakeably coming from God. But I didn't hear any answers. And then the water boiled over.
I went back to my own flustered reasoning. "I could have sworn I had another jar of spaghetti sauce!" "Did my roommate use it up?" "Did I throw it out?" I realized that I could try to make do with the 8 oz. jar of tomato sauce, but it probably still wouldn't be enough. Plus, that didn't feel like a "divine solution" to me, that felt like a makeshift, last-ditch effort I had come up with on my own to get this to work. But it was all that I had and the clock was ticking. I scraped out the first jar of spaghetti sauce using a spatula. Then I opened up the tiny jar of tomato sauce and added it to the mix. It surprised me. 8 ounces was a lot more than I had thought! As I mixed it together, I realized it was going to be just the right amount after all.
Dinner was lovely, albeit quick. But it wasn't until after dinner when it finally hit me: my prayer had already been answered before I ever sat down and folded my hands. I had just been refusing to accept that answer. I never found that extra jar of spaghetti sauce like I had hoped, but all of my needs were met and I was able to keep the promise I had made to my roommate. It didn't seem as great and wonderful as my original plan, but it was still wholesome. I realized that my error had been my attempt to be the author of this story, rather than a character in God's story. Characters don't get to write the ending of the story. They just have to humbly accept what the author has already written.
I pray a lot. I know plenty about Scripture and plenty about prayer. But tonight's experience made me ask myself, "Am I really grateful for all the good I have already received?" It's not the first time I've heard that wake-up call. When I first noticed that "tiny" jar of plain, store-brand tomato sauce, I dismissed it with scorn. And that is actually a really useful metaphor, I think. Didn't the early Jews do exactly the same thing to Jesus? They were searching and searching and searching for the promised Messiah. They knew plenty about Scripture and plenty about prayer, too. They had been raised on the stories of a mighty warrior king riding in to finally defeat the Roman empire and bring them into a prosperous kingdom of glory and abundance. In a sense, they were waiting for that 45 oz. jar of chunky, meaty spaghetti sauce. So when the son of a carpenter showed up, saddled on a donkey, they were less than impressed. That was just like the pathetic 8 oz. can of tomato sauce. How could that ever be enough?
I'm taking this experience tonight as a helpful reminder that sometimes the answer we're looking for is already right in front of our faces, but it's our own stubbornness that prevents us from seeing that. I've already had moments of desperation where I've cried out to God in prayer, looking for some sort of acknowledgment, and have gotten it in pretty remarkable ways. I'll have to save some of those stories, perhaps, for another day. Tonight I didn't get quite the same treatment, but I did get exactly what I needed to hear: a reminder that everything I need is already at hand, and it will be enough. It may not seem all that glamorous, but at the end of the day, it is nourishing and wholesome. I was left with two questions, so I leave you, dear reader, with the same two questions. Are we honestly grateful for everything we already we have on hand? And are we recognizing the solutions that may already be staring us in the face, or are we being stubborn?