“I lift up my hands to you in prayer; like dry ground my soul is thirsty for you.” (Psalm 143:6).
I had this verse in my heart as Memphis went without rain for September, making it the third driest September on record for Memphis. And despite a few showers in the early days of October, the verse stayed with me. The ground is still hard and dry. The hydrangea plants in the backyard of Manna House are still droopy.
As I got out of my car in the parking lot across the street from Manna House, a man approached and asked me, “Do you remember me?”
He looked familiar, but I did not remember his name. I knew he was a Manna House guest from a few years back.
He told me his name and said he’s been working and has a place where he lives. “Did you know I got married?” he asked. Then he added, “My wife, she’s got stage four cancer. She’s at Methodist. That’s why I’m here, taking a break from being with her in the hospital room. You all still serving coffee?
“Well shit. I’m sorry. What’s your wife’s name so I can pray for her. And, yes, we still serve coffee. We’ll open at 8.”
I stood there in the parking lot feeling parched. I felt the hard, dry soil of life. I couldn’t help but connect this man’s story to Ronald Kent, who died of cancer just a few weeks ago. I won’t hear him singing in the Manna House showers anymore; or get to rib him about the Dallas Cowboys, his favorite team.
The former guest interrupted my thoughts of drought. He had more he wanted to share with me. “People tell me the good Lord doesn’t give us any more than we can handle,” he said. “I don’t know about that. Either the Lord thinks I’m super strong, or that’s just flat out wrong. What do you think?”
“I think it’s wrong,” I said. “I guess I don’t think it’s so much about God testing us, trying to see what you or I can handle. I think it’s more about how God is always with us, God holds us close even when it doesn’t feel that way.” I was trying to talk my way through my own thirst for God.
Then the man shared with me how God’s gracious rain comes to him in drought. “I have no doubt God is with me,” he said. “But really it’s God in Christ. Jesus is the one who knows our suffering. He suffered. He died. He’s been there. He’s suffering with my wife. He’ll die with her, just like he died for her. We’re never completely alone.”
“You’re right, so right. You have a strong faith,” I told him, “I’ll keep your wife and you in my prayers.”
“Thanks,” he said, “Prayer is all I’ve got now.”
This parking lot theologian reminded me of the biblical and Christian tradition of affirming God’s grace is like rain. God freely offers God’s grace to each of us, like a gentle rainfall. C. H. Spurgeon notes how lovingly God shares this grace. God “directs each drop, and gives each blade of grass its own drop of dew… God moderates the force, so that it does not beat down or drown the tender herb. Grace comes in its own gentle way.”
In the times of drought in my life, God can seem more absent than present. The rain of grace can seem shut off. But the guest in the parking lot showed me how to stay open to God’s gracious rain, to the life-giving water given us in Christ. When I stretch out my hands to God in prayer, when I keep yearning for God’s gracious rain even when my soul is dry and thirsty, God will slake the thirst of my soul.