Every morning my first thought is, “Did it rain?” The answer will dictate how I’ll spend the first hour of the day, and often set my mood for the rest of the morning. If there is no rain, then I must go down to the river and haul a few buckets of water to meet my daily bathing, cleaning, and drinking needs. Every ounce of water is used and reused. Dish cleaning water becomes toilet flushing water. Laundry rinsing water may be repurposed to scrub the floor.
I hate hauling water. It makes my muscles scream and my lungs heave. I’m humiliated by small children who scamper by me with buckets on their heads and older women who carry one bucket on their head and one in their arms, moving twice as quickly as I do. My kind Tanzania neighbors called out “Pole!” (Sorry!) and I wonder what exactly they’re apologizing for: my weak biceps, my spoiled American relationship to water, my seeming inability to do most tasks that they pull off with ease? Or maybe sorry is merely the best descriptor for this scrawny white woman wearing a pink, flowery, Goodwill bin cast-off dress taking a crash course in how to live in a small East African village.
Life in Tanzania is teaching me the value of rain. What used to only influence the day’s fashion choices (“Maybe I’ll throw on my rain jacket . . . ”), now has the power to make or break my day. This preoccupation with the water economy of my home has also made me more in tune to the water references in Scripture. A few weeks ago, I read, “You gave abundant showers, O God: you refreshed your weary inheritance . . . From your bounty, God, you provided for the poor” (Psalm 68:9-10, TNIV). Oh yeah, that’s the kind of Bible verse you can share on Facebook with a picture of full buckets (guilty!).
It feels good to praise God when God brings rain to revive my weary self. But what about when Jesus uses rain as an example of God‘s impartiality and challenges me to move into uncomfortable spheres, encounter people I don’t like, and generally do stuff I’d much rather avoid? Last week, I read Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount: “I’m challenging . . . you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer . . . This is what God does. He gives His best – the sun to warm and the rain to nourish – to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty” (Matthew 5:44- 45, MSG).
Now I’m a good southern girl turned missionary woman, so of course I “don’t have any enemies.” These verses are as easy to swallow down as a cup of sweet tea when you’re as godly as me. But then, oh but then, I open up any social media site and all h-e-double hockey sticks breaks loose: divisive words, despicable politics, angry exchanges. Why, just last week I unfriended two people because their every political comment made steam come out of my ears. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would’ve done!
To be perfectly honest, when I hear Christians parrot political talking points that I ardently disagree with, I want the kind of justice God showed to Noah’s neighbors: rain as a punishment for wickedness. I want God’s justice without God’s mercy. Or do I? I’m reminded of a C.S. Lewis story where a character asks, “Are the gods not just?” And a mentor answers, “Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?” Where would I be if God was justly punishing my every sin? How full would my buckets be if God only provided rain on the days that I was perfect? Pretty sure I’d be schlepping it to the river on the daily!
The truth of the matter is that God‘s justice is intimately tied to God‘s mercy. As Frederick Buechner so beautifully summarizes: “Justice is the pitch of the roof and the structure of the walls. Mercy is the patter of rain on the roof and the life sheltered by the walls. Justice is the grammar of things. Mercy is the poetry of things.” When I view social media through the lenses of justice and mercy, I must be the first to drop my stone of judgment. I must remember that I am called to imitate a Creator who gives rain to the Democrats and the Republicans, the liberal and the conservative, the masked and the barefaced.
Rain has something to teach me about justice and mercy, God’s fairness and God‘s goodness. Will I listen? Will I let its lesson soak in and then use its nourishment to reach out to a hurting world? Will I follow Jesus’ advice to respond with the energies of prayer when someone gives me a hard time? Or will I merely praise on the days with rain and pout on those without?
Perhaps I’ll contemplate that as I go haul one more bucket…