“Don’t forget to be the donkey,” she said.
I stared at the text on my phone. I didn’t get it. Be the donkey? What did that mean? Why was she reminding me to be a donkey?
The bizarre message was from my sister-in-law back home. She wanted me to know she was thinking about me while I was on the road, and evidently, she thought it would be encouraging to remind me that I should act like a donkey.
I put the phone down, a tad concerned, and picked up my notes for the trillionth time. In a few hours, I’d speak at an event well outside my usual comfort zone and I was anxious. My preparation for this day had been a sincere struggle.
And by ‘struggle’ I mean this: Imagine a person slogging through knee-deep mud for days, only to discover she’d been walking in circles, and was still as lost in the swampy weeds as she was before – only more tired. That was me. An overly dramatic me, I see now, but whatever. I’d felt unprepared and uneasy as I packed my bags, and so I’d asked a few loved ones to pray for me.
And pray they did, as well as sending supportive reminders reminding me to channel certain barnyard animals. “Don’t forget to be the donkey.” ??? Man. I was still so confused by that.
And then it hit me. Do you remember the Old Testament story of Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22)? Here’s a quick recap of that interesting story if it’s been a while since you’ve cracked open the bestselling book of Numbers.
Balaam was a greedy 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 wanted him to do. As an aside, this is never considered a positive trait in any prophet. Ask Jonah.
And so God determined that Balaam’s own donkey would be the means by which he’d get the prophet’s attention. If he wouldn’t listen to Yahweh, then maybe he’d listen to human words coming from the mouth of a donkey.
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 relief this image offered at that moment. It helped re-frame everything. If God could speak his words via a donkey, then surely he could figure out a way to say a few words through me?
I’d taken myself so seriously and 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.
No, she was recalling 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, the hope of the world, to a disappointed and divided people. That’s what she meant.
Be the donkey who carries Jesus, healer of the world, to a wounded and weary people. That’s how she was praying for me.
Be the donkey who carries Jesus, the bread and wine of heaven, to people who feel desolate and empty. That’s what she wanted me to remember.
Isn’t she the best?
So shalom to you and yours today, friends. And don’t be afraid to be the humble donkey who gladly carries Jesus, the true King, into every corner of the world he made and loves.