Hard Times

Today’s scripture: Proverbs 18:17-24 (NRSV) (The Message) (KJV) What might God be saying to me?

My thoughts (John Seksay):

Have you heard the true story about the hiker who got his arm trapped by a boulder while out in the wilderness? It was the classic animal-in-a-trap decision. Die in the trap, or sever the trapped limb to escape. In his case, he chose to sever the limb and seek help. It’s the literal image of the phrase “stuck between a rock and a hard place”! The loose translation is: being caught between two powerful forces, and having to make a very difficult choice. Sometimes our choices are between two paths we would rather not take at all. Or sometimes we must give up what we want most to get someone else what they need.

One family story in this category belongs to my father. His parents came to the coal fields of Pennsylvania seeking a new life, and he was the first generation born in this country. His father died before he was born and he was being raised by his immigrant parents, mother and step-father, who went on to have eleven more children. He spent two years in the first grade learning English from scratch because his parents only spoke Hungarian. He studied hard and helped with the family garden and chickens; all 14 of them shared half of a double house owned by the mining company and bought their goods at the company store. His goal was to become educated and escape the perilous life of coal mining, helping his family acquire farmland and be financially self-sufficient.

But the Great Depression took its toll. His parents lost their savings in a bank that failed; the county, being short of revenue, implemented a charge of 50 cents a month to ride the bus to high school. The following week, my father was working beside his step-father in the mines, his school days over. He remained a coal miner for over 20 years before moving his family to the big city.

For retirees, medicine or groceries? For struggling families, gas for the car or rent for the house? I feel like the reading for today speaks to the Israelites about making hard choices the best they can. Verse 18 mentions the most extreme scenario, with the casting of lots when mediating between powerful forces. The term for it was consulting (or using) the Urim and Thummim, a form of cleromancy (divination by the casting of lots as a way of determining the will of God in a given situation).

If you look this up on Wikipedia, you will get a great deal of information about the history of the terms and where we see them in the Bible. What you will not get a description of what it, or they, actually were. Various cultures have used bones, marked sticks, or dice. Regardless of the mechanism, the function is clear — to make a choice that is too overwhelming or challenging for the person to make. In the eyes of the Israelite culture, the decision was given to God, and God selected the outcome that was correct for everyone involved without fail.

It seems when life requires us to roll the dice, it’s time to put your faith in the right things and trust the answers you get more than your own impulses. It suggests not putting yourself forward, but patiently seeking a greater good. Hard times mean hard choices.

The picture below shows my meditation corner.

The four items are:

  • A bristlecone pine that has survived for over 5000 years.
  • The Chinese symbol for patience.
  • The Chinese symbol for diligence.
  • My father’s certificate for mastering Palmer Cursive writing in June 1931, the only official award he received during his school years (I estimate he was 14 at the time, finishing the 8th grade).

These are the things I reflect on when faced with hard choices and want to hear from God in the matter.

Thought for the day:  Am I prepared to listen to God’s voice within and around me and trust in God’s outcome for me?

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.