On a bench outside a tourist shop in La’ie, Hawai’i, my friend and I found God at the bottom of her purse. Last November, I flew to O’ahu to celebrate one of my best friend’s wedding. A few days before the ceremony, those of us in the bridal party met up with one of our mutual friends. We spent the lunch hour feasting on smoothies and chicken, and wandering through the local shops, checking off last minute Christmas shopping. My friend and I had finished while a few of our mutual friends were still exploring the wares. We sat on a bench chatting when, all of the sudden, my friend interrupts.
Oh my gosh, Bryce, please tell me you have a quarter. Across the walkway she had spotted her current tourist obsession: a penny press. Since I have a large international readership, and I’m not sure how universal gimmicks like these are, a penny press is basically a machine that “stamps” pennies (the lowest level of US currency) with an image or phrase reminiscent of the tourist location. You can see some brief examples here. Because the owners of the machine have to make money, they typically cost 51 cents – two quarters and the penny you get pressed. It’s not expensive, but in an age of credit cards and tap-to-pay, change is hard to come by.
Throughout the trip, one of my Bryceisms of the moment was saying “Provision!” whenever something unexpectedly good happened. It was my way of reminding myself that God provides. I had been in the midst of praying really big prayers, and I needed the reminder that my God was faithful, present, invested. I dug around in my wallet and found a quarter. In her wallet, she found a penny. The machine, though, cost 51 cents. We needed one more quarter, and we had exhausted both our wallets. There was nary another quarter in sight. Ugh. Let me check one last place. She reached an expectant hand into her bag and pulled out a quarter, fat and shiny, completely in the wrong place.
See! I told her. Provision! She strutted those 51 cents over to the penny press and walked back with a treasure. About a month later, she texted me about it. I had completely forgotten this experience. It was her prayer, her penny. Completely unmemorable to me. In her text, she told me she was running late to work and that, every time this happened, she got a terrible parking spot in her downtown parking garage. There’s never a spot if she gets there after 9. When she rolled into the garage, at a crisp 9:06, she spotted a miracle: a parking spot close to the front. You already know she yelled, Provision! Since then, she’s texted me a few other times, small reminders that tiny, significant miracles can happen. She told me she wants to get matching “provision” tattoos. Maybe at our next friend wedding, we’ll sneak out to a parlor and make it happen.
I was raised in a faith tradition that was nervous about these kinds of associations: mistaking the secular for the sacred. They warned about “over spiritualizing” something. Was that really a sign from God, or just a regular coincidence? Was God providing for you, or did you just get what you needed? Is the Enemy attacking or are you just hangry? I’m currently reading Tyler Staton’s book Praying like Monks, Living like Fools. In it, I came across a line that was balm against this reductionist theology:
If we effortlessly judge the parking space prayers of someone else, sure that we know the priorities of an incomprehensible God, our spiritual lives are suffocating and restricted while their God is ever involved, interested, present.Tyler Staton, Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools, page 118
I’m not saying there’s no place for a word of warning against over spiritualization. We’d be wise to test voices and experiences. But I think there is something to a staunch observance of God in the middle of the most mundane parts of our lives. That one experience finding a quarter on a bench in La’ie has provided bountiful encouragement to me over the past few months. In the midst of health crises my family has faced, I’ve thought about the provision of that quarter and the provision of my friend’s parking space. If God is that interested in showing up for the little things, why do I worry if God will show up to the big things?
The truth about our prayers is they can always get bigger. They can always get more urgent. Recently, I had another friend video chat me to catch up. Towards the end of the call she submitted a prayer request for a friend of hers that was just diagnosed with cancer.
What do you think? Is that a big prayer or a small prayer? An urgent need or a flippant want? If you’re my friend or I, that’s a big and urgent prayer. If you’re the woman with cancer’s kids, that’s a massive, breathtaking, knees-on-the-floor, anguishing prayer. That’s the prayer of your life.
But if you’re reading this from war-torn Ukraine, earthquake-ravaged Turkey, colonized Kingdom of Hawai’i, that’s a prayer you don’t have room for. Sad, maybe, but unexceptional.
During the season of Lent we are reminded how unexceptional we are, how meaningless our lives and the things we work towards are. My friend’s friend is one of almost 8 billion people. Although her life is massively significant to those of us that know and love her, her life is dust. She doesn’t mean anything to the vast majority of people alive today. She means everything; she means nothing.
Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books of the Bible (which I did a series on you can find here), does a great job balancing our profound significance and insignificance at once. I’ve had verse 9:9 stuck in my head for months now, but Eugene Peterson’s translation of 9:7-10 captures perfectly what I’m trying to get at here:
Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning. Don’t skimp on colors and scarves. Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, for there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 MSG
If you’re a foodie, you know the deep satisfaction, the vast importance, of a good meal. If you’re into fashion, there are few things better than finding the perfect accessory. If you’ve ever been in love, there’s no place better than being snuggled up in their arms. Vast, indescribable importance. And yet, the author reminds us, this life is meaningless. Even the biggest, most important aspects of our life are snuffed out. We die, a matter of decades after we’re born. Vast, indescribable unimportance.
If you want your god to be infinite, they’ve also got to be intimate.
In order to combat White Supremacy, God also has to understand the importance of a good lūʻau. In order to cure cancer, God’s got to have a seat at game night. If we want to trust that God can answer a once-in-a-lifetime big prayer, we have to have a testimony of small prayers God’s answered too. We don’t need them so God will answer us; we need them to remind us God answers.
You might think I’m over spiritualizing a penny press, but what I know is that God has used that moment on a bench to constantly and consistently remind me over these past few months that God can fix my marriage. God can maintain my sobriety. God can get me a parking spot when I’m overwhelmed and running late. God can gift me laughter in the middle of an episode of Abbott Elementary when I’ve had a stressful day.
God provides for me in big ways and small ways, because He is my Father and He does everyday life with me. He’s interested in it. He loves me. He has full custody of me and it isn’t enough for Him to just show up on holidays or when I really, really, pretty-please need something.
I serve a God who presses pennies; I serve a God who ceases war. Nothing more, nothing less.
God offers provision every single day if I only remember to look for it.
Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram or Goodreads.
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