'AiO! Tita Barbara?'
I hear voices at our gate; it’s two of my friends from the street, John* and Hassan*, boys who have stopped by to do odd jobs for me since we’ve lived in this neighborhood. They’ve grown much taller over the course of the past two and a half years. I call back, ‘Walay jobs. Wala’na!’ ‘No jobs, not now!’ But they shake their heads and hold up a load of coconuts they’ve picked to sell for five pesos apiece.
I love to support initiative like that! I'll buy two! But I tell them I have no bolo knife to cut the coconut husks, no axe or machete. They assure me that a smaller knife will be okay, and though I’m wary, I go and grab the biggest kitchen knife I own. It’s a nice kitchen knife, a wedding gift, and it’s served me well for over 18 years. It’s not really the best choice for coconuts, but I think it will do.
I bring the knife out, and Hassan gets to work. I can tell he’s done this before. He cuts strips into the husk from top to bottom, then grabs the husk with his hands while pulling the rest away expertly with his feet. Cut then pull, cut then pull. I take photos, and the boys jump up to see themselves digitally immortalized. We laugh together at their silly pose, and then Hassan goes back to work. Cut then pull, cut then pull. The small round coconut shell begins to emerge from the pulpy fibers around it.
Hassan finishes pulling away the husk, and John uses a screwdriver to poke a hole in the soft spot of the shells where straws will go. The boys then ask if they can also cut our grass. It’s looking scraggly, so I agree. I know these boys are diligent workers. We have only one pair of clippers, so they take turns. One boy clips grass in the hot sun while the other takes a break, whizzing around the driveway on Michael’s scooter. They’re loving it. The grass looks good – it’s tidy, they’ve swept up all the clippings and thrown them away.
A co-worker of ours stops by for a visit, so I bring a snack and payment to John and Hassan, but they are still having fun with the scooter, so I decide to let them play while my friend and I visit inside.
Twenty minutes later the boys call out a goodbye and a thanks to me, and I go to the door to thank them for their work. Their hands are full of their coconuts, more wares to sell at the next house.
It’s not until later, when they are long gone, I realize that my knife is also gone. That special wedding-gift kitchen knife of mine. My heart sinks. I look through the bushes in the garden, in the trash bins. No sign of the knife. What happened? Did Hassan break it on the husk and feel too much shame and fear to tell me? Or did John decide it was worth more to him than occasional jobs at our house? I may never know.
The knife is a real loss. But far more important than the knife, I feel cut to the quick by the thought that these boys have stolen from me. They’ve betrayed a long-standing trust by their dishonesty. I feel angry that I gave them the opportunity; that I didn’t guard them from the temptation by keeping better watch over it. I feel grief and sadness over their duplicity and deceit. And yes, quite honestly, I am indignant over their audacity to walk away with what belongs to me.
Days later I’m still mulling over it; still feeling the wound caused by that knife. What, Lord, would You have me to learn from this? Surely it’s not to hold more tightly to the material things you’ve blessed me with. No, those I must hold loosely, willing to let them go for Your sake, or for the blessing of others. You’ve said as much in Your Word.
I know that there must be a lesson for me in this encounter.
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’
Have I robbed God? Maybe this is a lesson about my own audacity, and my own duplicity when I say that I love Him; when I claim to be His friend, and then steal the tools He holds out to me, instruments for His service, as though they were my own. As though I can take these things to use for myself in any way I want to.
This is where the knife begins to cut deep. These things He has loaned to me, the tools that I so often clutch to use for my own selfish ends, include the hours and minutes and moments of this day. They are not mine. They are His. Yet, like Hassan and John, how many times do I run away with time that does not belong to me? I run away with it, using it for my own gain, my own enjoyment, my own pleasure, my own desires.
…man can neither make, nor retain one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift;
-C.S. Lewis from The Screwtape Letters
The knife continues to cut as God reveals another tool I steal from Him…these gifts and abilities He’s held out to me; gifts and abilities for His kingdom, but how often I use them for ME, robbing Him of the service they are designed to fulfill.
…whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 4:11
And yet another tool; these hands of mine. Even these, they are not my own. They belong to Him. So why, why, why? Why do I hold them back from being used in the way the He might direct? Why do I act as if they are mine, as if I have a choice in serving with them or not? As if they were more for my own blessing than for His own glory?
…you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:20
Just like Israel in Malachi’s day, and like my two friends from the street, I too am a robber. I thoughtlessly steal from God what is not mine. Please don’t get me wrong. God is not a hard task master. His yoke is easy. When I left that knife with Hassan, he was cutting open a third coconut for his own enjoyment. I was happy for him to use it for his own blessing. But he was meant to use that knife inside our yard, within my parameters. God also gives us time for refreshment, times for rest, and I believe that He’s delighted for us to use the tools He’s loaned to us for our own blessing as well…but within His parameters.
Now each time I open my kitchen drawer for a knife, I hope that I will not be resentful, but thankful for a missing knife; an instrument of remembrance to faithfully, intentionally use for God each tool He’s entrusted to me.
*names have been changed for obvious reasons