A short while ago, my husband and I watched a squirrel dig a hole in our yard.
Dirt and grass flew every which way while he pawed at the ground; when he was satisfied, he dropped a nut inside and then covered it back up. My husband was indignant. “Ever since we’ve moved in I’ve been trying to make the yard look like a yard, and he just dug a hole in it. I should go get the nut out.”
“Do not,” I said. I found the entire affair adorable; I was only sad I didn’t have my camera with me. “He’s saving it for winter. If he comes back and looks for it and it isn’t there and he’s hungry and it’s cold, well, I don’t think you want that on your conscience.”
Amused, my husband watched the squirrel scamper back into the woods. “He might forget it’s even there, you know.”
Because squirrels do. For all the time and effort they give to burying nuts, they sometimes forget where they’ve put them. And sometimes, the result of this happy accident is an unexpected tree.
There is a lesson in that sort of simplicity.
I think we often expect our Christian life to be full of a-ha moments where we always recognize the cosmic and divine significance in everything we do. We expect that we will somehow know who is lost, or who needs a hug, or who needs a sandwich, or who needs what words, and respond accordingly: that if we are only close enough to God we will gain more of His knowledge about what is going on and where we ought to direct our ministry efforts and who needs us where and when. We desire to have this constant awareness of what we are doing and why and how exactly it is contributing to the kingdom of God.
It’s true that sometimes God may direct us here or there to do a particular thing and give us awareness of that. But I also think that more often than not God intends to use our normal and our very unremarkable lives – often when we’re not looking or paying attention – to change the world. And very few of us will ever know He’s doing it.
It’s notable to me that Jesus didn’t need to hunt out people to heal; He simply walked and went on His way, and more often than not, people came to Him, or He encountered them as He went. And Paul in his letters consistently encourages believers simply to live well: to work with integrity, to be kind and generous, to lead diligent and quiet lives of grace. That, he seems to imply, is enough. Enough to make a difference.
What I’m saying is that I believe that when we are truly trying to live with God, day to day, when we cultivate our relationship with Him and that is our priority – going about our regular business in the ways that squirrels do – we don’t need to try to accomplish things for the Lord. We’ll end up abandoning accidental acorns of grace simply because we’re with Him and in His presence. And those acorns, eventually, will grow into trees.
Relationship with God comes first. The fruit of that comes naturally, and after.