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Humility as God’s Ho Ho

There is a wonderful, even magical, story in the Old Testament. It involves Elisha, one of the famous prophets in history, and the widow of one of his colleagues. (II Kings 4:1-7) The widow comes to him in crisis, telling him that a creditor was about to take her son as a slave because she could not pay her debts. In fact, all she had left was a small amount of oil in a jar.

Elisha, in what seems like an unusual bit of advice, tells her to ask all of her neighbors for empty jars, then take her two sons with her into her home, close the door and start pouring her small portion of oil into the jars. As she does what he asks, (I can only imagine what she was thinking to herself) the oil somehow increases until it has filled all of the jars. Since oil is a valuable commodity she now has enough oil not only to purchase her son’s freedom, but to support her family for the foreseeable future. It is a miracle story, one we would all like to claim for our own lives when times are hard and resources are thin.

I was pondering this story during my prayer time, letting the truths of it soak into my heart. At the time I was particularly grateful to God for letting me see a plan he was laying out for me to move from my condo and my current life style in a “happening neighborhood” to a simpler and smaller life style in a “green” development in a more racially and economically mixed neighborhood. It was a major move for me and reflected a change in priorities, values and commitments.

Yet, I was grieving this move from a place I loved, on the bank of the Mississippi River, with gorgeous views of the city. I was also going to miss the regular contact with the neighbors I had come to care about. And facing this new neighborhood brought its challenges too. I was a bit fearful of the potential for crime in a lower economic neighborhood, even though I had friends there and a welcoming church waiting for me.

But the unmistakable truth alongside the fear and the loss was the clear sense that God was calling me to this new home.  He had already provided human “angels” to help me make the transition. I had mentors and friends in this new place. I felt as if I was moving to a new way of being, feeling a renewed energy in my life, seeing a vision for my place in the world. I felt God paving the way, providing me with the people, resources, and a willing spirit.

So while I was reading this story, I could identify with God’s largess and could even see this move as a way for me to help multiply God’s love, like the widow’s oil in the story. I was praying for God’s guidance about how to share the abundance of grace—God’s oil—poured into my life. I felt much like the widow, that even though I was in a difficult transition and my future was unclear, God was supplying for me in generous ways. I felt so grateful and honored to be in this place of abundance with God.


In the quiet of my prayer I heard a voice from that place within me where God dwells. The voice chimed in, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, my dear one. You are not the widow in this story. You’re the empty vessel.” The voice sounded light-hearted and gentle like it was singing a nursery rhyme or something like that, starting on a high note and descending like a slide. The message was clear and challenging, yet I could sense a chuckle behind the challenge.

Just like that. Few words. TRUTH. Humility. Loss of ego again. No gentle approval of my claim to be the widow in the story, just a gentle truth with a chuckle. And, of course, God was right. My ego would love to be the widow, the unsung star of the story, and I would love to identify with God’s largess for me. I’d love to have the small amount of oil in my own vessel multiply and be of great worth. I love redemptive endings and being part of them.

But God was clearly telling me that being an empty vessel was more closely attuned to my current state, or needed to be. The vessel represented the acceptance of my emptiness, my dependence on God to fill me, which was really my new calling.

Empty, waiting to be filled, unsure, dependent, surrendered; new words that I was not totally longing for, but now learning to live into. In the story, the empty jars were also a gift from God, a sign of hope for the widow, who must have been elated that her neighbors would give them to her, even though she was unsure what would happen once she got them. So I became a vessel, willing to be given, willing to be part of a miracle of love. I am of value precisely because of my emptiness. I was not moving to my new neighborhood to simply pour out my gifts but to be a vessel, willing to be, to learn, to receive, to love. We are all of immense value in our emptiness—an emptiness that God knows how to fill so much better than we do.

As soon as I heard those rhythmic words, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. You’re not the widow; you’re the empty vessel.” I knew God was messing with me again, in that familiar way, gently nudging me off of my pedestal, bringing me to a richer, simpler and even more profound truth—empty vessels are more likely to be filled. It was what I needed to be—an empty vessel. I could feel the gentle humor, the loving nudge. It felt familiar. I could hear the chortling chuckle. I could imagine the twinkle in the eye, the sly smile that accompanied those words, “Empty vessel.”

One of my friends would call this experience one of God’s Ho-Hos. I like that. And, as a result of this God Ho-Ho, I felt a joyful sense of expectation in my emptiness.

End Note: I did not make that move to a different neighborhood, since I could not sell my condo in the economic environment of the time, but I felt the significance of being open, willing and eager to move. And the empty vessel image is still meaningful to me. several years later.

© Copyright, Janet O. Hagberg, 2009.


Reflections on this essay

Which figure or symbol from the story would you be?

How have you felt God leading you into a new direction that is unknown?

Where has God surprised you with a new truth about yourself?

How have you experienced being empty and then being filled?

What is one of God’s Ho Hos in your life?

Connecting the Dots


As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10: 46-51


May is a very special month in my life. Not only is my birthday in May, but also my husband’s birthday and our wedding anniversary. At the opening of my spiritual direction session recently when my director asked me how I was, I told her I felt saturated in celebration. I went on to say that it was as if God just showered me with so much love throughout the month that I couldn’t help but take it in. She, more than many, knows my long journey toward greater integration as an Enneagram Two, an important part of which has been God’s gentle process of helping me learn how to receive. As I shared a bit more, she said it sounded like I had spent the month marinating in love and that my heart had become deliciously tenderized! Of course she then asked me to expound upon this.


I happily responded with various excerpts from the month, one of which related to a joint 60th birthday celebration I enjoyed with four of my closest friends from high school. All but one of us live in the Twin Cities and the one who lives out of town was planning a visit, so we decided we’d craft a wonderful weekend of merry making. Shortly after we finalized our plans, I woke up one morning–which is often when God speaks most clearly to me, before my own wheels get turning– with the realization that we hadn’t planned anything for Saturday morning. I immediately had the distinct sense that it would be my joy to share part of who I am and the work I do with these dear friends by offering to do a small retreat at my church. None of them attended church regularly and none of them had ever attended a retreat, but that didn’t deter me. At the same time, I didn’t want to overwhelm them so I went to my computer and emailed them the idea I had been given of gathering that Saturday morning for a mini-retreat entitled Sixty Minutes on Turning Sixty. To my surprise, within a very short time, they had all responded with a resounding “Yes!”


It was this amazing experience (which lasted well over an hour!) that I was enthusiastically sharing with my director when she offered a deeply meaningful observation. In essence, she said that beyond the wonderful details of the retreat, she noticed that I became quite “loud”, animated, and enthusiastic as I described this experience and that she rarely observed me being “loud.” I, too, had noticed this and felt quite sheepish as she was pointing it out.  She went on to surprise me with a question about whether this being “loud,” or giving full voice to something, might be a clue for me as to when I am living out of my true, God-given, and most authentic self.


Her question served to help me connect with another powerful experience I’d had the previous Sunday in church where our pastor was preaching on the Blind Bartimaeus passage from Mark. There are a handful of Scripture passages in this last year that continue to call to me and this is one of them. Each time I sit with it, I usually find myself in tears, in awe, and aware of some new perspective. Early on I gave much prayerful consideration to the places in my life where I felt sidelined, blind. Later, I was struck by the fact that, just moments after the crowd had attempted to quiet Bartimaeus, Jesus involves those very same people in calling Bartimaeus forward, though Jesus could have easily called him forward himself. That caused me to think about the importance of community in my life and how critical it is to discern which voices are truly for me and which are not. I’ve also devoted much thought and prayer to exactly what cloaks I have worn in my life, what they have signified, and what it has meant for me to throw them aside. Of course, with each reading, I continue to sit with and deepen my response to the ultimate question Jesus asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”


Well aware that there were still several parts of this passage to which I had not yet given careful attention, I was interested in hearing it again to see what God might stir in me this time. Much to my surprise, nothing I would have expected spoke to me, but instead a small part of the passage I had never really noticed before. “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” There it was, an invitation to deeper healing, and it involved someone being “loud!”


Raised to respect all authority, to be a rule follower, to be compliant, to not rock the boat, and quite a pleaser and a first rate accommodator in my own right, I saw in a new way how susceptible I have been to the voices of the crowd in my life, be they the voices of parents, family, teachers, friends, or employers, well intended or otherwise. Far more than I would care to admit or even realized, these voices have frequently been more of my God than God. So when I step into this Scripture passage, right into the cloak of Bartimaeus, and I hear that Jesus is passing by, I, too, begin by shouting with all my might: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” But that is where the similarity can too easily end for me. When the crowd rebukes me and tells me to be quiet, I have too often either acquiesced or simply silenced myself with these types of thoughts: they must know more than I do; I shouldn’t upset him; maybe I don’t understand this as clearly as she does; this is probably not worth it; I don’t want them to feel badly; maybe I didn’t really feel or sense what I thought I did; good Christians wouldn’t cause a disruption…..


Bartimaeus challenges this thinking when, in the face of rebuke, he shouts all the more loudly. My spiritual director challenges this thinking when she asks me to consider the connection between a God-inspired idea, my delight in bringing it to be, and my loud declaration of its goodness. For me, then, there seems to be an invitation to learn what it means to be “loud” in my pursuit of Jesus, not allowing anything to stand between us; and what it means to joyfully declare the good works He does in and through me.


Gracious and loving God, help me to learn how to flex a new muscle, to cast off all that hinders me from drawing closer to you, to be loud in my listening for and pursuit of you. Amen.



Questions for Reflection

~As you reflect on your pursuit of and response to Jesus, where have you allowed yourself to be quieted and why?

~Have you been quieted more by the voices of others or by your own internal voice? What more do you need to be aware of about this?

~Around what issue or experience are you being invited to cry out more loudly?

~What are the risks and hopes you have in doing this?



Warm greetings! I am Tracy Mooty, lover of Divine Mystery, my family, our pups, and dear friends. I am one who enjoys listening intently, making meaning, and deepening my capacity for joy. Janet and I first met at Colonial Church years ago, and, thanks to her mostly gentle prodding, we’ve partnered to offer all sorts of programs and retreats. She’s also the reason I’ve entered into this adventure! Thank you, Janet!


c Tracy Mooty, 2015. All rights reserved.

















God laughing at us

“He uses complicated diagrams to make himself look really smart.” A few months my 12-year-old son offered to make a commercial about my consulting business. It turned out that my son had some fun with earnestness and use of complicated diagrams. Here’s the commercial he made:

I’ve learned a lot about spiritual formation and prayer from the author, Richard Foster. I recently heard a talk where Richard talked about one of the most transformational moments in his spiritual life–where he heard God laughing at him. Richard had been trying hard to discern an issue that he saw as an important ethical decision, about whether to wear a tie or not. In loving response, God laughed at him, which helped Richard laugh at himself.

As I’ve been very busy doing lots of work lately, I’ve had a sense that God is laughing at me, in inviting, challenging, loving ways. I can sometimes laugh at myself or others in ways that are cynical and distancing. I think God is asking me to listen, feel, and join God’s laughter–that can be unsettling, but also an invitation to intimacy and freedom. I’m leaving soon to help facilitate a gathering of 500 church leaders, where we’ll be listening for new things God is doing in their region. I pray that we may hear and join God’s disarming, healing laughter, at the conference and beyond.


What Do You Belong To? A Life-or-Death Question

Jesus looked at him and loved him[1]–the earnest young man who walked away.

He looked at him–straight through him probably. Jesus saw who this man was and who he was not. He loved him. Even though he probably knew that the man couldn’t follow him. At least, not yet.

“With God nothing is impossible.”

I don’t think that we hear the end of that man’s story. Just the burning question that brought him to Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus called it the Kingdom of God. This is a here-and-now kind of kingdom. Eternal life means “the life of the ages.”

What does it take to enter into and participate in the kingdom of God?

Everything and nothing.

Everything. The cost is everything you belong to. Nothing. You don’t bring anything in with you. Just you. It is a long, hard, slow process getting down to just you.

This earnest young man could not easily leave his life–his wealth–he belonged to it.  And so he sadly walked away.

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

With God nothing is impossible.

God undoes us.

God mends us.

God is in the letting go.

It’s hard. It’s hard to let go of your belongings–the things that belong to you, the things that you belong to.

Frederick Buechner advises: “Don’t start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks. . . ”

This story asks important questions– life-and-death questions.

What must I do?  What is keeping me from participating in God’s kingdom here and now? What is keeping me from seeing what is Real? What am I belonging to that is holding me back from God? What am I having a hard time leaving behind?

Lately, I have been learning how to belong in my feet right where I am. I am learning to belong to God. I am learning that we all belong to each other. These belongings are life-changing. Maybe we need to let go of the small belongings in our lives in order to realize and experience our true Belonging.

What are my small belongings? The ones that I need to release?

Do I belong to my roles? To my church? To my job? To my home? To the expectations of my parents? To the opinions of others?

Do I belong to the past? To mistakes that I’ve made? To slights that I’ve received? To my accomplishments?

Do I belong to my plans for the future?

Do I belong to something unknown and better that always lies just ahead–out of reach, out of sight, but coming hopefully someday? Do I belong to the time when I will finally be able to [fill in the blank]?

Do I belong to my beliefs? About who God is? About who I am? About who others are?

Am I able to walk away from these small belongings-and most of them do not seem small–if they prevent me from experiencing God, from experiencing Life in the here and now?

Jesus looks at me and loves me. He invites me to leave behind my small belongings. He invites me to come, to follow, to find out about this Life that is eternal. This Life that has been and is right now and will be.

[1] Mark 10:21 (NIV)

Just me?
Is that all you really wanted?
Not my doctrines, ideas, or words?
Not all of the amazing things I could or should be doing?
Just me?


You don’t need me to succeed?
To be stunning or fascinating?
Miraculous or right?
Just me?


Real, wide-awake life
is waiting for me to lay down the trappings,
to release all that my hands are so tightly grasping,
so I can slip though this narrow gate
that will only fit
just me.

© J.L. Sanborn, 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

Jessica is mom to three little-ish people and wife to a great guy. She used to do lawyer things. Now the future is wide open as she learns what it means to belong in her own feet. She writes about faith and becoming at

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