“Don’t forget to be the donkey.”
I looked down at my phone hard. I didn’t get it. Be the donkey? What does this mean? Why is she reminding me to be a donkey?
The bizarre text message was from my sister-in-law back home. She wanted me to know that she was thinking about me, and also, she clearly thought it would be immensely encouraging to remind me that I was a donkey.
I put the phone down, a tad concerned, and picked up my notes for the trillionth time. In a few hours I would speak to a crowd exponentially larger than my comfort zone, and I was anxious.
*It might also be helpful to point out here that I’m a first-born child. And a missionary kid. This means that it’s not humanly possible for anyone to register higher on the “People Pleaser” scale than I do.
So, in addition to being wired by nature and nurture to excessively desire everyone’s approval, there was another factor contributing to my unsettled spirit – my preparation for this weekend event had been a sincere struggle.
Imagine a lonely soul, slogging for days through knee-deep mud. Can you see her blood, sweat, and tears attracting a legion of mosquitos and leeches? Do you sense her growing despair as she comes to the conclusion that she’s trudged in mental circles for weeks, only to be just as lost in the swampy weeds as she ever was? That was me. An overly dramatic me, I see now, but whatever. And so I’d asked a few of my loved ones to pray for me.
And pray they did, as well as sending last-minute ‘encouraging’ reminders about channeling barnyard animals: Don’t forget to be the donkey! Man. I was still so confused by that.
Except. Wait a minute! Could it be? Holy Balaam!
Do you remember the Old Testament story of the wicked Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22)? Could that be the donkey she was referring to?
Here’s a quick recap of that interesting story if its been awhile since you’ve cracked open the book of Numbers: Balaam was a prophet in the Old Testament who mostly (always) wanted to do what he wanted to do, and hardly ever (never) wanted to do what God asked him to do. FYI: this is not considered a positive trait in any biblical prophet. And so God decided that Balaam’s poor, abused donkey would literally speak up and rebuke his wicked master. God saw fit to use an ordinary (and very surprised) old mule to testify to the straight-up truth.
I texted her back: “Are you calling me Balaam’s ass?”
Honestly, I can’t tell you how much humorous relief this particular image provided me in that moment. It helped re-frame everything. If God could speak his truth via an obstinate donkey, then surely he could figure out a way to say a few words through me? I’d taken myself so seriously! For so long! And now, thanks to a praying sister-in-law, a super-odd text, and God’s timely provision, I was finally free from myself.
But of course that’s not what she meant. This dear sister-in-law would never dream of calling me an ass, even when I very well might deserve it. She was thinking of a different donkey in the scriptures, the one that quietly carried Jesus into his beloved Jerusalem a week before the cross.
Be the donkey who carries Jesus – hope of the world – to angry and fearful people.
This is what she meant.
Be the donkey who carries Jesus – healer of the world – to hurting and broken people.
This is how she was praying for me.
Be the donkey who carries Jesus – bread and wine of heaven – to desolate and empty people.
This is what she wanted me to remember.
Be the donkey who carries Jesus – the host of heaven – to welcome into his kingdom all the people.
This was what I was being asked to do.
PS: I know many of you are worried and despairing at where we find ourselves right now as a country. As a people. You hear the prophets braying their own truth. You are witness to all the earthly kingdom posturing and fear mongering and promise breaking. And you are completely dismayed.
Do not fear. The people of God are citizens of a new kingdom, established by a true king, who was (and is still) willing to be carried along by a humble donkey.
So, be the donkey! Go wherever your master goes. Listen carefully for his voice and accept his instruction. Stubbornly refuse to go your own way, doing and saying what seems so right to you. Trust him fully as you carry him out into the world to all the people. For as Henri Nouwen likes to say: Our lives are not problems to be solved, but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our very finest guide.
Peace to you, because you are in the care and company of the very finest guide.