On Saturday evening, Jason, the girls, and I all rode bikes into town after dinner for ice cream and watched the sun set in all of its glory over the Pioneer Mountains. After casting one backward glance at the hazy golden pink shadows against the blue Idaho sky, we wheeled into a local bookstore to take a quick look around and browse through some of our favorite titles.
As we came out of the store, an elderly, white-bearded gentleman followed us out the door, hungry for conversation and fellowship. He sported a long, snow-white beard with a small braid hanging down in the middle, and wore a knitted hat with tinted ski goggles resting against his forehead. He commented on our family, on Mia Grace, and we introduced ourselves and asked him his name. “Ananda,” he said, a Hindu name, I found out later, meaning, “Happiness.”
And this is where the conversation became interesting. Ananda asked us where we were from: “Houston,” I said, “where it’s hot and humid!” “Ah,” he said, “I’ve been to Houston once before. I was there to pick up some Hindu deities. They were carried by boat from India to the ship channel, and I was there to carry them by car all the way back to Idaho.”
I can honestly say I didn’t know what to say. I have never had a total stranger (or anyone for that matter) tell me they came to Houston to pick up deified cargo. Lillian was standing next to me, and I wasn’t sure if she heard his comment or was focused on Mia Grace and the stuffed cat she kept showing to Ananda. (I found out later that of course she heard his comment and had 101 questions about deities people could pick up and carry from the ship channel…of course she heard; kids don’t miss anything.)
At this point, Jason walked over and began to engage Ananda in conversation and stood and talked with him for as long as time (and Mia Grace’s fascination with the stuffed cat) allowed. Then it was time to go.
As we got back on our bikes, I still felt tongue-tied. And I was so saddened. Saddened I hadn’t known what to say to Ananda, who was a lonely, hurting soul still looking for someone, or something else, to pick up and carry. We left him standing by himself on the street corner, his goggles glistening in the sun.
About a block away, as I was asking the Lord what in the world I should have said, His words in Isaiah 46 came to mind:
“Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over
[note: both Bel and Nebo were Babylonian gods or idols];
Their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle.
The things that you carry are burdensome,
A load for the weary beast.
They stooped over, they have bowed down together:
They could not rescue the burden,
But have themselves gone into captivity.
Listen to Me, O house of Jacob,
And all the remnant of the house of Israel,
You who have been borne by Me from birth,
And have been carried from the womb;
Even to your old age, I shall be the same,
And even to your graying years, I shall bear you!
I have done it, and I shall carry you;
And I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you.”
Isaiah 46:1-4 (note and emphasis mine)
And I knew what I wished I had told Ananda.
“Ananda, you are so kind, so gentle, and so humble, and I see the way you value and treasure the gods that you believe to be precious. But can I share something with you, Ananda? There is a God I know who is far too vast to ever fit in a container on a boat in the ship channel, and His power and sovereignty is far too great for humans to ever carry. But I will tell you this: this God I know, while I cannot carry Him, He carries me. And He would love to carry you, too, if you would ever let Him.”
Because that’s what Isaiah 46 tells us. The idols that we make with our human hands and pick up and carry from one place to another, one problem to another, one hopeless situation to another, become only burdens. They bow us low to the ground, our backs bent under the weight of gods who can’t do anything but sit there.
But the God of Israel is in the business of creating a people for Himself, beginning with the birth of the nation of Israel with the house of Jacob, and culminating at the cross with the death and resurrection of Christ. And through Christ, the true Israel, all those who know Him are a part of His family and are carried by Him through every single one of their days, even to their graying years.
And the God of Israel is able to do all this because He subjected Himself to becoming a child so small, He could be picked up by human hands, and becoming a man so weak, He was carried to a cross and crucified there, hanging between earth and sky for all the world to see. And He did it so that there would never have to be a day when the Father did not carry you or me.
That’s what I wish I would have told Ananda, the words of Isaiah 46 rolling off my tied-up tongue.
I am praying for an opportunity to see Ananda again before we leave, to warmly shake his hand, ask him how he has been, and ask him if I can tell him about the God who longs to pick him up and carry him through the rest of his graying years on this earth and on into eternity.
Would you pray that with me? Would you pray for an opportunity for Ananda to hear the Gospel clearly, despite my tied-up tongue? And would you look around you this week at the people you know and love, as well as the strangers God sovereignly ordains to cross your path? Ask the Lord for spiritual eyes to see backs that are bent from bearing a heavy beast of burden, a deity that promises way too much and delivers way too little. Ask the Lord for ears to hear cries of loneliness, sorrow, and disappointment coming from people who have worshipped idols of their own making that have under-delivered and never satisfied. And then ask Him for the words, the boldness, and the courage to come up alongside those He tells you to, lift their load, and speak about the God who suffered Himself to be carried unto death so that He could carry them, from the womb to the grave, with resurrection life.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30