A Primer in Grace

Several days ago, I spent an entire day with three of my friends scraping wallpaper off one of the rooms in my house.  I call them friends because they still want to talk to me after a grueling day of manual labor on a hot summer day.  They arrived early in the morning and stayed until around dinner time, and although they wished they could stay longer, I was more grateful that I could express to them for all they had done.  I had been painting other rooms in the house for the last couple of weeks, but with my work schedule there was no way I could do anymore alone.  I was confident after their help that I could finish the rest before midnight.  It had to be finished because I was having an open house the next day in order to sell it before I moved away to attend seminary.  I wanted it to look as good as it possibly could, especially with the competition of so many other homes in the weak economy. 

The remaining scraping and sanding took much longer than I had anticipated, but by midnight I was ready to begin priming the walls.  I had a gallon and a half of primer for a very small room, so I knew this next phase would go rather quickly.  That was before I opened the unopened full gallon of primer to find that it had gone bad.  Originally the paint was stored in the shed, but I brought it in before the winter frost ruined it.  At least that is what I thought, but it was obvious from the paint that it was not brought in soon enough.  The paint had separated – oil on the top and gritty, sand-like paint on the bottom.  No matter how hard I tried, it was ruined and so was my painting project.  It was now well after midnight and now even Walmart was closed.  I had less than a half of a gallon of primer in the other can to complete the entire room.  It was impossible.  I’ve been painting since I was a teenager, when I used to help my parents with their house.  There was no way that this was enough paint to do the room.  It was obvious to even a small child that this was in no way enough paint to cover two walls never mind a whole room.

Tired, hot, and now in total despair I did not know what to do.  This had to be finished before noon that day.  I began to stir the paint, trying to convince myself that somehow this would be enough paint, but as I continued to stir I realized I was only deceiving myself.  There was no time in the morning to get more paint.  I had to put the final coat of paint on in the morning, so I did the only thing left to do.  I prayed.  I stirred the paint and prayed with each circular motion that God would multiply the paint like he multiplied the loaves and the fishes.  I stirred and I prayed and yet, deep down, I couldn’t stop saying to myself to look at the obvious and realize there was just not enough to go around.

Still, I refused to listen to the negative voices and began to pour small amounts of paint into the painting tray.  I poured and I prayed and then I began to paint.  I tried to use the paint sparingly, yet I had to have enough to cover the dark paneling that covered the walls or the top coat would never look good.  My father and I would do painting projects when I was growing up and I remembered him pushing on the roller to get every bit of paint out that he could.  I pushed hard on the roller and prayed even harder for a miracle.  Things were going great and I finished the first wall.  I stepped back to see the other three walls mocking me like the devil himself, but I forged ahead despite the hopelessness of it all. 

Little by little I pushed harder on the roller to see paint come out of what was now becoming a very dry roller.  Even my cat, who now was lying on the chair as if to watch a great comedy, mocked me as she reached out her paw to touch a dried out roller that left no paint on her paw.  How could I be painting walls without hardly any paint?  It seemed absurd, yet as St. Paul wrote I pressed on to the race set before me.  I poured the paint sparingly into the pan and watched to my own amazement (and the cat’s) as more and more of the walls were primed.  How was this possible?  By all reason, I had only enough to do perhaps one or two walls, yet as I continued I kept hearing what I knew was God’s own voice saying trust Me.  But there’s not enough paint; I’m going to run out, I said. Trust Me.  I should just quit right now; this is crazy.  Trust Me.  I continued with my painting, pushing harder on the roller and at times it seemed like no paint was left at all in the dry withered roller.  Yet like Ezekiel’s dried bones in the Bible, God was breathing new life into this roller, into this paint, into my soul.  Trust Me. There was a miracle happening in this room right before my eyes and if anyone had told me this story I wouldn’t have believed them, but here I was witnessing a real miracle and instead of feeling exhausted now, I felt a new excitement like I had never felt before.  God was here with me in the room and He was taking the little I had and multiplying it before my very eyes.  Trust Me, He continued.

There was only a couple more inches of paint left now and as I looked around, there were still sections that needed to be painted by the brush.  Would I make it?  Yes, yes, I was caught up in the rhythm of the sound of trust Me, like the rushing of the wind at Pentecost and it wasn’t just about the paint now.  This miracle was more than just the paint, it was about what was going on in my own life.  I was anxious about a great many things as I prepared to head off to seminary.  What about…..trust Me.  But Lord, what about…..trust Me.  But what if I can’t…..trust Me.  Over and over God was saying to trust Him.  Had He ever let me down?  Even when I experienced great tragedy, had He ever totally abandoned me? No, God was always with me, even when it felt hopeless, even when others let me down, God never did.    God never betrayed me.  God never would.  Maybe I don’t know how it will all work out, but God will be with me.  God is with all of us even when we don’t realize it, even when we can’t always feel Him; He is with us.

There was amazingly enough paint to finish the entire room with a cup left over.  Yes, a cup left over!  Again, I wouldn’t have believed it, if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.  Should I have checked the other gallon of paint earlier in the evening so I could have gone out and purchased more?  It would have been easier, but I don’t believe it was part of God’s plan.  If there was enough paint to begin with, there would have been no reason for a miracle.  If there had been enough wine when Jesus went to the wedding at Cana, there wouldn’t have been a reason for a miracle.  If sin hadn’t entered the world, there wouldn’t have been a reason for a miracle – the miracle of God’s incarnation to save us from death and give us the gift of everlasting life. 

I don’t know if my house will sell like I need it to or how any of the other concerns I have will be resolved, but I feel a sense of peace that somehow they will.  Maybe we need the times of scarcity to prepare the way for God’s glory to be revealed.  Perhaps, like St. Paul wrote, we should “count it all joy” when we encounter various kinds of trials because we know that somehow God will work it out for good.  God will reveal His glory through the brokenness in our lives.  Even when it seems hopeless, even when it seems like a situation is impossible, trust Him.  Let Him tear down the walls of doubt and make a space for grace.  The God of miracles still lives.  Amen.

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