The mother puts her son in the shade of a desert plant to die and then goes a bit farther to sit somewhere where she won’t have to watch her son breathe his last. Here, away from the eyes of her son, she begins to sob. This was a woman overcome with sadness, profoundly grieving, giving into total despair. All that she cares for is soon to be gone, including her own life.
This was Hagar of the Old Testament, having been driven from the camp of her mistress, Sarah, for displaying such a disrespectful and haughty attitude. She’d messed up. She, and unfortunately her son as well, would be paying a very high price. The last thing Hagar needed at a time like this would have been more bright light of the sun, or salt to make her even thirstier.
And yet, I find that sometimes this is exactly what I provide to someone in need. I come upon someone in the throes of overwhelming despair over some decision he’s made or something that has happened to him, and just when he needs shade and shelter from the elements, I instead oh-so-nobly give them more sun, more salt. “Well, you know what you did was wrong, don’t you? The Bible says . . .”
Don’t misunderstand me.
We are called to be light, to point the way, to reveal truth—even ugly truth, for those who might otherwise miss it.
We are called to be salt, to provide flavor and preservation, to direct people to want more food and meatier sustenance.
But if someone already knows what is wrong, then more light isn’t helpful. If they’re already parched from their loss of life giving water, then providing more salt isn’t helpful either. There are times when the kindest and most Christian thing we can do is simply to provide some shade, a break from the storm, a resting place in the midst of chaos.
No light to reveal their errors in judgment.
No salt to add to their already raging thirst.
They simply need a break, a bit of recovery time, a moment to rest. And while they’re going through this very difficult time, what they may need to know most of all is that that they’re not alone, that you’ll be there too.
When you find yourself getting ready to launch into a mini-sermon over your prodigal, ask yourself if this is really a moment for more light, or is it instead perhaps time for some restful shade?
What about you?
Are there times when you wish you’d provided some shade instead of more light? How do you know when light is called for? Where’s the line?