“And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” – Psalm 106:15
Once upon a time there were two souls who lived in the same village. The name of the one was Skinny Lean Wanting, and the name of the other was Full Soul Whole. Their village, Blissville, was nestled in a lush, well-watered valley surrounded by towering mountains. There were several churches scattered throughout the valley, and on Sunday mornings people could be seen going to the church of their choice. It is here that we begin our story as we look in on Skinny Lean Wanting after church service one Sunday.
“Hello, how are you today?” The strong voice behind Wanting caused him to pause and turn. He looked sadly into Whole’s smiling face as he struggled to form just the right words in response. But before he could arrange his jumbled thoughts, Whole added, “I hope you’ll let me buy you lunch down at the River Rapids Restaurant today. They do have good food and great coffee!”
The thought of a free lunch plus someone to keep him company for a couple of hours teased his droopy mouth into a slight upward curl. Whole repressed an impulse to grin in amusement as a picture flashed across his mind of his lazy cat “grinning” in front of the fire on a cold day. The likeness was stunning. Sometimes he wished his mind didn’t pop up with teasing bits of humor this way.
“Yes-s-s,” Wanting rasped. “That’ll be, uh…fine.” He silently stared at Whole. Finally he shuffled his feet nervously and mumbled, “I’ll meet you there.”
“Welcome to River Rapids.” Snatching up two menus the hostess led the way to a cheerful corner table. Large picture windows offered a sweeping view of the river’s white water as it swept up, over and around boulders that refused to move. Colorful flowering shrubbery, evergreen trees, and green meadows flowed to the foot of the rugged mountains which rimmed the valley and created the perfect backdrop. Circling high above the treetops two Bald Eagles gracefully glided on unseen air currents. Billowing white clouds resembling mounds of whipped cream created an interesting panorama of changing shapes in the azure sky.
“Praise the Lord for this beautiful day!” exclaimed Whole as he flipped open his menu. “Isn’t God’s creation awesome beyond words?” He raised his eyebrows questioningly as his brown eyes peered at Wanting over the top of his menu. He studied Wanting’s expressionless face.
“Huh?” Wanting was plainly distracted by nothing in particular.
“Coffee?” The waitress’s cheerful voice and bright smile was welcoming as the afternoon sun.
“Hi Suzie. Yes, please,” Whole said, returning her smile.
“How about you, Wanting? Coffee?”
“Uh, okay.” He watched her pour the aromatic liquid into their cups.
“Thanks!” Whole smiled as he pointed at the special of the day. “If you’re ready, I’d like to order the Reuben sandwich with extra sauce, and seasoned fries.”
“Got it! She said, and then turned to Wanting. “Are you ready to order?”
Wanting took a deep breath and scowled at his menu. “Give me a few minutes, okay?” As she turned to walk away from their table, Wanting called after her. “Wait! I think I want the bacon cheeseburger. No wait. Maybe…” He squirmed in the booth. “Um, I think I want the Monte Christo sandwich instead.” She reached for his menu, but before she could retrieve it, he said, “Aw, just bring the bacon cheeseburger with extra fries.” He snapped the menu shut as if trying to make a point of some sort, and shoved it toward Suzie.
“Yes-s-s-s Sir!” Out of the corner of her eye she noted Whole’s expression of silent sympathy for her. “Coming right up!” As she turned, she shot a grin at Whole who was plainly uncomfortable with Wanting’s lack of manners.
Whole turned his attention to the tumultuous river as he thoughtfully sipped his coffee. The pounding water reminded him of Wanting’s sullen expression and miserable attitude that seemed to assault his emotions the same way the angry water relentlessly smashed against the jagged rocks. Lord, he silently prayed, Guard my heart and don’t let his misery and self-pity dampen my joy. And, Holy Spirit, give me the words to minister to this lost, empty soul. He had been praying for weeks about Wanting, knowing that God had put him on his heart.
Wanting sighed as he roughly set his half-full cup of coffee on the table and waved Suzie over to their table. “Could I get a fresher cup of this stuff?” he asked. “It tastes like re-heated two-day-old coffee grounds.”
“Of course. Sorry about that” she said as she snatched up his cup. “I’ll be right back.” Wanting squinted at her as she glided to the waitress station, her blonde ponytail swinging gaily as she went.
Whole leaned forward, folded his hands on the table, and gazed into Wanting’s expressionless eyes. “What’s troubling you today? I have to admit, you seem very troubled. Aren’t you happy with the beautiful home you always wanted, that shiny new rig sitting out in the parking lot, your big boat, and great job? God has been very good to you, Wanting. He’s given you everything you’ve asked for.”
Wanting pursed his lips and scowled at Whole, but before he could answer, Suzie was back at their table, expertly pouring fresh steaming coffee into a new mug for the disgruntled patron and then refilled Whole’s cup.
“Thanks, Suzie.” Whole said in an understanding tone before turning his attention back to Wanting. “Tell me, what happened when you got saved?”
Wanting puffed out his thin chest and leaned back against the chair. “Well, that’s easy,” he drawled as his lips twitched with what Whole surmised was a weak attempt to grin. “That happened 29 years ago when I went to the big church that used to be across the valley.”
“You mean Jolly Jerry’s church?”
“Yep! Now there was a man who knew how to keep an audience’s attention!”
“No wonder God closed that church down,” Whole said in a measured tone.
“What do you mean, ‘God closed that church down’?” Wanting tersely repeated.
“Wanting,” Whole began and then lowered his voice. “Did you hear what you just said about that church?”
“What do you mean by that? I just told you how great it was!” Wanting’s thin lips snapped together defiantly.
“First off,” Whole said, trying hard not to chuckle at Wanting’s snap turtle appearance, “your emphasis is on how Jolly Jerry ‘entertained’ the ‘audience.’ Since when are God’s servants called into a ministry of ‘entertaining’ an ‘audience’ instead of preaching Christ to the congregation? In other words, a real messenger of God is not in the business of tickling the ears of a bunch of spectators!” He felt his face growing hot and reached for his glass of ice water, wishing he could pour it over his head, hoping it would somehow cool off the disgust that threatened to burst forth in a fiery stream of verbal exhortation.
“Well,” Wanting said as he watched Suzie moving towards them with their orders, “I um, I know that I accepted Jesus after laughing at one of his hilarious jokes!”
Disgust flashed across Whole’s face, but he managed to pleasantly thank Suzie as she set their food on the table. He quickly bowed his head, said a short grace and then bit into a savory fry, chewing it thoughtfully as he collected his thoughts. He watched Wanting busily rearranging the food on his plate. “What about your fruit?” Whole asked.
“What fruit? I didn’t order any fruit!” Wanting mumbled.
“No,” Whole said as he took a bite of his sandwich, “I don’t mean that kind of fruit; I mean the fruit of the Spirit.” He sipped his coffee nonchalantly, trying to ignore the scowl forming on Wanting’s face as he stared glumly at his plate.
“Hey!” Wanting suddenly waived his arm in the air and snapped his fingers at Suzie as she passed by with a heavy tray full of dishes. “Where’s my dill pickle?”
Whole quickly shoved a corner of his sandwich into his mouth in an effort to choke back the words that had rushed into is mind, I’m staring at a big dill pickle, right now!
“Sorry, but a dill pickle didn’t come with what you ordered,” Suzie calmly stated, “But, I’ll go get one for you.” Before Wanting could respond, she turned on her heel and sped off to the kitchen.
“Well?” Wanting challenged as he stared at Whole who finally swallowed, and then began to casually dip three fries in the sauce.
Whole pretended not to notice Wanting’s growing agitation and changed the subject. “Tell me again what happened when you received Christ? I’d like to hear your testimony.” He hoped he had sidestepped the unpleasant current that threatened to sweep them off course.
“Oh, that. Well, it was the feeling that came over me. I had never felt that way before, and it was great, so I just knew.”
“Yeah, I just knew that I believed.”
“Believed? Believed what?” Whole wiped his hands on his napkin and watched in silence as Suzie expertly slid a small dish with two dill pickles in front of Wanting.
Wanting wordlessly raised his eyebrows at her retreating back, as he gingerly plucked a pickle off the plate. He waived it at Whole. “You know. I just believed.” He chomped into the pickle, seemingly unaware of Whole’s eyes staring intently at him.
“Believed Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead three days and three nights later? Is that what you mean?” Whole asked.
“Uh, well, yeah. That!” Wanting finished the pickle, and started working on the rest of his hamburger.
Whole decided he was getting nowhere fast. Lord, he silently prayed, please give me the wisdom to at least be able to hold up a mirror to this miserable soul! In a flash he thought of the sermon they had just heard that morning. “Wasn’t that a great sermon this morning on God sending leanness to a person’s soul?”
“Oh, I guess it was okay,” Wanting stared unseeingly out the window for a moment. “It didn’t do much for me, to be honest with you.”
“What would you have changed about it?” Whole asked. He was beginning to feel like a fisherman who kept changing bait in the hope of getting at least one bite.
“Hum-m-m-m,” Wanting reflected. “Well, um…I wouldn’t have compared what God did to the Israelites with the church, for one thing.”
It was Whole’s turn to ask, “What do you mean?” Sobriety and calmness suddenly rose up in him as he felt the Spirit quicken his discernment.
Wanting straightened in his seat, an air of superiority washed over his face before concentrating into an unapologetic smirk. His cold gray eyes were penetrating as he studied Whole’s face.
A chill went up Whole’s spine. He was sure that the eyes staring into his weren’t the real Wanting, and he silently prayed for protection, power and wisdom. “You were going to say…?” he queried.
Wanting dropped his eyes and stared at his half-eaten burger for a moment. “Ahhh, yes, well,” he slurred as he stabbed at small bits and pieces of his fries with his fork, “I’m just going to tell you how I would’ve preached it!”
Whole watched in amazed silence as Wanting suddenly became animated with some unseen force that craved this opportunity to exert itself.
“I would have,” Wanting said, pointing and waving his fork at Whole, “made the whole thing positive. I would have preached that God won’t send “leanness” to anybody’s soul! I just don’t agree with that at all!”
Whole fought the urge to pound the table and yell, “But, that is what the Bible says, and Israel left us examples of what to do, and what not to do to please God!” Instead he bit his lip, and listened to Wanting suck in his breath. He knew that another round was coming, and come it did.
“Maybe those Israelites didn’t have faith so they weren’t faithful, but just look around this valley! There are churches everywhere and people go faithfully every Sunday. I go every Sunday! So surely God wouldn’t send leanness to my soul!” His voice was challenging.
Suzie interrupted the moment by refilling their coffee cups. Feeling the tension, she wordlessly turned and hurried to the next table.
“As for loving God,” Wanting said as he wrinkled his pointed nose, “Well, for crying out loud! Doesn’t the pastor ever stop to think that nobody would bother to get up, get dressed, get in their vehicle, drive to church, and waste an hour or two sitting there listening to the same old negative stuff every Sunday if they didn’t ‘love God’?” He paused, waiting for Whole’s response. When he got none, he seamlessly moved on to the next point. “Why does the pastor always have to harp on serving God? He used those Israelites as an example of people who loathed serving God. I just don’t get that!” He took a sip of coffee, grimaced, set the cup down with a thud, and shoved it to the side. “Yuk,” he muttered under his breath.
“Is that all you think of the message today?” Whole meekly asked, ignoring Wanting’s disgust.
“Are you kidding me? No it is not! I actually felt like the pastor was aiming it straight at me!” He snatched up his napkin, wiped his fingers, and crumbled it into a ball before smashing it like some unseen enemy on the table. “I am going to talk to him about the ‘thankfulness and thanksgiving’ part at least. Did you notice that he was staring straight at me when he talked about the failure of ancient Israel to be thankful? What in the blank does that have to do with me? I’ve had my share of troubles, God knows, and maybe I’ve got, like you said, ‘everything I wanted’ but there are problems and things that aren’t perfect with it all, plus there are just flat out some things that I am NOT thankful for, nor ever will be! Period!”
“I see,” Whole said as he finished the last bit of his sandwich. “Um, um good!” He smacked his lips together, took a long drink of water, and then grinned at Wanting. “Anything else about the sermon that bothered you? You’ve hit every point except for praise.”
“Yeah, well-l-l-l…” Wanting drawled. “Some people just don’t care to sing real loud, clap, and jump up and down waving their hands in the air.”
“Whoa, Wanting! Wait just a minute! Who ever said that is the only way to praise the Lord? Some folks ‘lift holy hands’ in prayer and praise, just like the Bible says. There’s nothing wrong with that you know. Besides,” Whole paused for a moment, then said, “You just got through waving your arm in the air and snapping your fingers over a pickle, and in public to boot! Don’t you think the Lord God Almighty deserves our praise and attention more than a pickle?”
Wanting snorted. “Yeah, it might be okay for others, but it isn’t for everybody, especially me right now. I have to feel like praising God before I can get all excited about it.”
Wanting turned to stare at Suzie who had quietly approached their table, and was politely waiting for him to finish his sentence before asking if they were ready for dessert. She tipped her head, and looked questioningly at Wanting. “We have fresh, homemade cherry pie today,” she said, “and I happen to know that you love cherry pie.”
For the first time since coming into the River Rapids Restaurant, Wanting’s lips curled into his “cat smile.” “If it’s still warm, yes, a big piece with vanilla ice cream!”
“You’ve got it!” She turned to Whole. “And, what will it be for you? We also have peach, blueberry and apple. All fresh baked and ready to go!”
Whole couldn’t resist such temptation although he was trying to cut down on sweets. In the back of his mind he figured he deserved a reward for having to put up with Wanting’s dour attitude, plus if Suzie could exhibit such grace and patience, so could he, so help him God. “I’ll have the blueberry today, Suzie, with vanilla ice cream. Thank you so-o-o-o much!”
She nodded, and hurried to get their orders. Whole’s eyes followed her as he heard her softly humming “Amazing Grace” to herself.
“Ahem!” Wanting cleared his throat as if trying to remind Whole that he was momentarily “left all alone” across the table from him.
“Sorry, old chap” Whole said cheerfully as he turned to face Wanting. “She was humming one of my favorite hymns….”
A shadow seemed to pass over Wanting’s countenance, but he seemed to lighten up when Suzie returned with their desserts. Whole made a mental note that not once since they had entered the restaurant had Wanting ever said “please” or “thank you” and surmised that he probably wasn’t a big tipper either.
“So,” Whole said through a mouthful of blueberries, “getting back to when we first got here, and I asked you if you were unhappy, I gather it’s right to conclude according to what you’ve been telling me, that the answer is ‘yes’ you are unhappy. Am I right?”
Wanting stopped chewing long enough to slur, “Right.”
Once they were finished, Whole picked up the tab as promised, left a generous gratuity for Suzie and walked Wanting out to his shiny new pickup. “What a beaut this is,” he breathed in admiration. “This baby has all the bells and whistles.”
“Sure does,” Wanting said as he climbed in, shut the door, and opened the window. “It’s got the works.” He turned the key in the ignition, and the engine roared to life.
“Forgive me, Wanting,” Whole said, “but I just have one more question for you before you go.”
“Inquisitive fella, aren’t you!” Wanting snorted. “So, sock it to me. What’s your question?”
“Be honest with me, Wanting,” Whole said as he cupped his hands over the door rim of the open window. He looked into Wanting’s sad, empty eyes. “Please tell me, friend, knowing all that you’ve been taught about what the Bible says, and all the sermons you’ve heard through the years, and based on how you are doing spiritually right now, and your personal relationship with Jesus, if you died tonight, where would you go?”
Wanting locked eyes with Whole’s; then, without a moment’s hesitation, he flatly stated, “Hell.”