Two hundred and sixty-four days
Six thousand, three hundred and thirty-six hours
Three hundred and eighty thousand and one hundred and sixty minutes
When I reach the seconds equivalent to these time frames, this crazy equation pops up:
What is that?
How about a quick math lesson?
The e stands for exponent. Do you remember the days of beginning Algebra when we were introduced to repeated multiplication? We used exponential notation to write repeated multiplication as a time-saving measure. For example, 10⋅10⋅10⋅10 can be written more succinctly as 104 with the exponent of four.
So, in looking at the equation 2.281e + 7, that means we can multiply 2.281 x itself seven more times to reach the 264-day equivalent
And what does this 264-day time frame signify in my life?
These are the extra, the bonus, the additional, the well-over-and-above amount of days that our family has sheltered-in-place in Oregon with our incredibly generous friends. Our benevolent hosts signed up to assist our family for 3 ½ months or about 131 days during our home assignment from South Africa. Well, we all know what happened. A world-wide pandemic, of course. Add 264 to 131 and we reach the sum of 395 days and counting, counting, counting. We are beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel to when our family shall emerge from the basement. However, we are not quite there yet.
The generous, above-and-beyond care our friends are giving our family will never, ever, ever be forgotten. Together, we are writing our unique-to-us pandemic story.
To us, our friends are practicing amazing love and care without any desire or expectation of ever receiving anything back from us. How could they? Will they need our family to host them for 2.281e + 7 seconds at some point in the future????
Of course, we do not know.
None of us can predict the future.
However, if they needed us. We would respond in kind. Again, and again.
Solomon agrees. In fact, he exhorts us all to be open-handed and open-hearted to people who are in need.
Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth. If the clouds are full, they pour out rain on the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. One who watches the wind will not sow and one who looks at the clouds will not harvest. Just as you do not know the path of the wind, and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes everything.
Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether one or the other will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.
New American Standard Bible, Ecclesiastes 11: 1-6
What is Solomon saying? How does his sage advice offer guidance in these days?
Consider this: the bread that is cast upon the water is akin to sowing seed or particularly, rice. As the rice is sown in the water-covered, sticky, muddy ground, it settles deep. Out of sight, roots erupt from the seed casing. The root growth is vital. For as the roots absorb the nutrients and water, the seedlings transform into hope’s desire; healthy, food-producing plants. This agricultural process is a slow, timely, step-by-step, out-of-sight undertaking. Many, many, many days are needed for the plant cycle to run its purposeful course. And yet, there are no guarantees or assurances that this work will ultimately produce the reward we seek. Yet, Solomon asks us to do this work anyway. Not for us, but for others.
Our love, care and benevolence should not be influenced by selfish, what’s-in-it-for-us ideals. When we extend help to others, we choose to sow this care without any concern of return harvest for ourselves.
Picture our gifts to others in this way: We cast our donations, our help, our food, and our supports into a raging river. The channel of water engulfs our gifts and its power and force carry them away – forever. Yet, far downstream, the waters deliver our gifts to people at the river shoreline. These are people who stand in expectation. They are suffering great need and have no other place than God to look for help. And then help comes. By God-given design and direction, the raging, river waters produce a harvest of care and blessing – to those who need it most.
Can you imagine such a shore-line scene?
The hungry are fed.
The hurting are embraced.
The sorrowful are cheered.
The distressed are comforted.
The lonely are loved.
The aged are welcomed.
The infirmed are healed.
The lost and forgotten are remembered.
The anxious are nurtured.
The betrayed are made whole.
It all happens because some one cast their seeds of health, love, well-being, and care into the waters of life for God to bless and use in a transformational, life-giving way.
During the pandemic, it is extremely easy and very understandable to set our sights on what we need – forgetting the hurting, wounded and vulnerable who stand downstream. Our world has been upended. Our family gets that.
Yet, our Lord says that this is a time to look up and out towards what is happening to the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable and the needy.
God Himself says:
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.
New International Version, Deuteronomy 15: 7-8
Our hosts demonstrate this kind of generosity with our family. We have a warm, safe, loving shelter because our friends provided it – and they keep providing it. They cast their bread upon the water and their care and benevolence saved us. They did it without hesitation and without expectation. We honor them for that. We love them for that.
Friends, this pandemic is not over yet. For our family we are at 264 days and counting since the direction of our lives changed. We are all making our way and producing our own stories from this time.
With more pandemic days ahead of us – at least for now – what shall we do then? What will our story be?
For our family, we will continue to cast our bread upon the water to assist others in need.
The hungry need to be fed.
The hurting need to be embraced.
The sorrowful need to be cheered.
The distressed need to be comforted.
The lonely need to be loved.
The aged need to be welcomed.
The infirmed need to be healed.
The lost and forgotten need to be remembered.
The anxious need to be nurtured.
The betrayed need to be made whole.
May we all one day sing this song of ascent when we emerge from our own pandemic basements:
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
New International Version, Psalm 126: 3, 5-6
Let’s cast our help, our love, and our gifts out today, tomorrow, and every other day that is needed of us into the waters of life. We have no idea what kind of exponential help will be given through God’s great love and generosity. He often does his greatest work completely out of sight – revealing his harvest days, days, and days later – for the blessing of others and truly of us all.
Raging River Photo Credit: Janet Kopper