I didn’t even see them, so corroded they were by dirt and time and tossed just off of the worn gravel cement path into the kind of grassy weeds that edge city blocks and line neighborhood sidewalks. I’d like to say I was too captivated by brilliant fall colors, too caught up in a dusky cool breeze to notice them—but the truth is that I was lost in the sort of funk and fatigue that wraps one up in a fog of just getting by, focused on too many what-if's and should-have's and I-wish's to be present in any given moment.
Abruptly my walking companion called out, “You know why we don’t notice these?”
“Huh?” I said without a hint of eloquence, having not even heard her words and unable to see what she held between thumb and forefinger even as I stopped and turned towards her.
“You know why we don’t notice these?” she repeated, and then, as her palm opened to reveal the two old pennies she’d just picked up, the ones I hadn’t even noticed, she answered her own question, “because we think they don’t matter.”
Not comprehending her point, I waited for an explanation.
“You know why we should notice these?” she asked, and then, again, answered her own question: “because they should remind us how blessed we are, how much we have. If we can afford to overlook two pennies, it’s because we have so much otherwise.” Then she dropped the pennies in my hand as I stared at them, rendered speechless.
Suddenly everything around me disappeared—the local high school behind me, the parking lot we stood in, the air, the trees, the cars going by, the teenagers leaving football practice—all of it faded away and all I could see, all I could register, were these two pennies, dull and scratched and covered in decades of grime lying in the middle of my outstretched and already winter-white palm.
I thought of the widow, of course, whose story I’ve known since I was a child—and how she gave all she had to God, and how all she had were two coins. I wondered if she was able to give those two coins because she knew that just by having them, she still had more than most folks. I wondered if maybe we’d all be better off living in such a way that giving two pennies would be an extravagant gesture instead of an insignificant one.
I thought, too, though, of how easy it is to lose ourselves in that which does not matter. How strong our tendency is to get wound up in the tangled yarn of every day frustrations. How quickly selfishness can push out concern for those around us because we've gotten so lost in our own stuff. It is, I think, especially easy to do so on those days in ministry when the question, “Why do I do this again?” flies forth from our lips by 10am. Budgets and board meetings and reports and unhappy parishioners and, well...the list goes on (feel free to add your own distractions from that which matters most).
It is sinfully easy to forget that it isn't all about us. That all around us are glimpses of grace and echos of mercy and children of God just dying to be known and loved. This world – it isn't ours. And these lives we attempt to box and control – they’re God's. And it's the details that make the bigger picture so whole and lovely and worth being part of to begin with.
Two little pennies – so unimportant to me. And in them such witness to God in us and around us and among us. All the time. Even in our own ignorance.