As we walk through the world, even along the dangerous paths we have chosen for ourselves, God worries about where we put our feet. — Tony Earley
Each year my church has a smoked chicken dinner and bake sale fundraiser for our mission budget.
I have always enjoyed baking, particularly making pies. When I was invited to contribute to the bake sale, I went straight to my kitchen and grabbed my rolling pin.
I made eight pies and could not have been prouder. Eight!
I took photos. I called my mom. I couldn’t wait to show up with my contribution.
At the church I found tables upon tables of food. Sandy had made 50 loaves of bread. Charlene: 60 fruit pies. Bonnie: 60 cream pies. Judy: cakes and rolls and pans upon pans of cinnamon twists.
Talk about shock and awe. It was a marvelous sight. And I was chagrined to be standing there with a measly eight pies.
Not that anyone was disparaging. My pies were more than adequately complimented and fussed over.
You better believe I upped my game.
It is chicken dinner time again, and for two weeks I’ve been in prep mode. Freezing crusts, preparing fill-ing, making crumb toppings, tracking down obscure ingredients, writing up detailed shopping lists.
A solid week before the sale I was lying on my bedroom floor completely angry with the world and wasn’t sure why. A few deep breaths later I heard the Spirit whisper, “It’s all this crazy baking.”
I almost laughed at the stereotypical figure I cut there on the rug: One of those people “doing good” while feeling mean and miserable.
I wondered if the end justified the means and knew in an instant that no, it did not.
God does not want the most luscious of apple pies if it means I snapped at my family all week. God is not pleased with money gained through cranky self-righteousness.
Does the end ever justify the means? I think not.
Our “means” always have multiple ends. Ugly, twisted means may achieve one beautiful result, but lurking in the shadows will be the undesired consequences that come with it.
I teach violin to young children. Invariably, there comes a moment when the student encounters a skill that seems insurmountable. The level of frustration is both surprising and jarring. Particularly for the parents.
“I just want him to enjoy violin and love making music.”
In my younger days, I caved to the ideal of “keeping it fun.” With particularly discouraged students I stopped insisting on correct technique. I let tone and intonation slide.
I achieved my end. They were having a ball sawing away on the fiddle.
But the other, quite natural consequence was that they didn’t sound good. It isn’t fun to make bad music, and eventually they drifted away.
I think about this often with parenting. Regardless of what the issue is — strong work ethic, good manners, a healthy amount of screen use — the end can almost always be reached through dictatorial, punitive methods. I’m the parent, and I can force them.
Yet we all know that hardworking, polite bookworms can dislike their parents.
This is the truth we find multiple times in the Psalms and Old Testament prophets. God doesn’t want a bull brought in pride or obligation. Rather, God desires obedience, loyalty and a broken and contrite spirit.
If these are our means, I trust the multiple end results will be kingdom work that brings glory to God alone.
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.