Donkey Tales


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My grandchildren are visiting and we decided to do “home church” on Sunday. They remembered doing that last time they were here because somebody had something potentially infectious that was not wise to share at Sunday School. They thought the experience was worth repeating.

It’s interesting to observe what little kids consider essential to a church experience. According to the eldest, one must, apparently, have decorations on the wall, a theme, a sign on the door posting expectations re: starting and finishing times, music, snacks, crafts, and story time. They loved being in charge of “church time” (although one was clearly more in charge than the others.)

We had a great time, especially after I gave the only boy real drum sticks and a real drum and the girls my box of craft materials. If only Michelangelo had construction paper, toothpicks, butterfly stickers  and tape. Who knows what he could have accomplished.

The kids chose the stories. They asked me to read as they dramatized: King Saul going pee in the cave and sneaky David cutting his robe, David (with rolled up sock stones and uncle’s old plastic slingshot found in the bottom of the toy box) and Goliath (holding a badminton racquet and pot lid shield and standing on a chair with Mommy’s long skirt covering the legs), and The Talking Donkey with a blanket saddle.

Silly me, I failed to notice the escalating violence in these scenarios until the final re-enactment needed to be cut short by a bribe of watermelon and granola bars. Balaam had the donkey in a strangle hold while the menacing angel of the Lord wound up for a good smiting from the top of the sofa back with the re-purposed badminton racquet sword. Good will was restored with juice box communion and then church was dismissed.


For some reason seeing the wrestling match in the middle of our home church reminded me of a few unexpected agents of grace in my life that have frustrated me. I think I may have attacked and tried to wrestle messenger donkeys to the ground myself when I didn’t recognize their purpose.

In the story the prophet Balaam hears the Lord accurately but imposes his own agenda. He misses the fact that a big old angel bringing the message of “No! Not this way” is terrifying the wits out of his mount. The donkey collapses under him, then smashes his foot against a wall. When an upset and hurting Balaam starts beating the animal, it supernaturally starts talking saying, essentially, “Sheesh! You really don’t get it, do you?”

I wonder if sometimes when the Lord speaks dramatically to people through crazy, unusual, dramatic, out-of-the-ordinary manifestations it’s not necessarily a compliment or sign of how super-spiritual they are. Maybe it’s not so much an experience to be bragged about as much as  Sheesh! What-does-it-take-to-get-your-attention moment?

Anyway the prophet and donkey who were thrashing it out on my living room floor reminded me of something I read years ago about anxiety attacks and depression and stress-related illnesses and really annoying relationship problems being agents of grace. We are traveling down the road expecting our plans to go smoothly when the things or people we rely on fail us.They collapse under us, or ram us into a wall, or yell Sheesh!  loud enough to scare the wits out of us. The usual reaction is to become frustrated and fight rather than listen to the message – at least mine is.  (Balaam was so defensive he barely noticed it was a bloomin’ donkey talking to him.)

By the time a dramatic attention-grabber shows up we have probably been ignoring the Lord or justifying doing thing our own way for quite a while. It’s the goodness of God that sets up circumstances that get our attention. It’s as if he is saying, “Stop! Yes, you have a gift. Every body in the family gets at least one. No, you may not use it in a way that will hurt others.”

A good tool is one that performs its job well. A knife that can slice through fresh hot bread without squashing it is a good knife. A knife sticking out of a friend’s back — not so much.

Here’s the thing about using the gifts (tools) that Father God gives us: they come with instructions on their safe use. The most essential instructions are found in 1 Corinthians 13 right in the middle of the discussion on the gifts. Without love it’s all a gong show.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing…. 

Love never fails.

Without love, “church” is in danger of turning into a chaotic pile-up on the living room floor.


9 thoughts on “Donkey Tales

    1. I remember when I first read the idea (in M. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Travelled, I think) that things like depression and anxiety could be agents of grace I was upset. At the time I was crippled by severe depression and it did not feel in the least bit like grace to me. Looking back I can see it now. Had I not been brought to a point of enormous discomfort I don’t know that I would have been willing to do the type of self-examination and acknowledgement of my need for God that leads to change. It’s hard sometimes. The pain of depression and anxiety can provoke us to a holy dissatisfaction – an uncomfortable resting place, a realization that our methods of coping are not working anymore.

      I also read somewhere (I really don’t remember this time) that people who can say “I am not liking my life right now. I need to change,” have much better outcomes than people who say, “I am not liking my life right now. My circumstances and other other people affecting my circumstances need to change.”

      Anxiety is horrible. I think an anxiety attack is just about the worst feeling in the world. Now I am NOT disregarding the physical causes of anxiety, nor am I blaming a person for bringing this type of suffering upon themselves (the same goes for depression). I am very grateful for the medical treatment I received. Even though it never cured me it allowed me to function well enough to pursue deeper emotional and spiritual healing.

      Both depression and anxiety have multiple factors affecting the severity of the illness. For example, self-medicating with drugs, sex, food or work can make things much worse. Childhood experiences that lead to false beliefs, shame, unforgiveness and loss of trust can cut us off from the Source of healing.

      Anxiety can be an agent of grace when it makes us realize that we can not continue in the direction we are going without dealing with unnamed fears and lies we have believed and kept hidden from others and even ourselves. Jesus came to heal us from those wounds and to raise us up to be everything He knows we can be. He desires truth to fill our deepest parts so we are free to love him and ourselves(when we see ourselves as he sees us.) This freedom from fear also frees us up so we might forgive and love others wisely with the love we have known.

      That’s how I see this applying to anxiety.


  1. Wow, your thorough explanation about how anxiety and depression can be good agents of change is wonderful. For me it was some serious physical challenges which derailed me for several years. As painful as the process was, I am grateful for the changes that were brought about in my heart and mind, and I believe my body is healing as well. Now I KNOW God is GOOD, and has my best interests in mind, and He is HERE for me, always waiting and ready to commune with me about everything and anything. There is absolutely no need to fear, and when I focus on His perfect love, I can start to breathe again and turn away from the source of fear.


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