Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20-21.
A mustard seed — have you ever seen one and held it in your hand? I remember the first time I did. It was a prop for a youth retreat when I was in high school. Those darn things are really small and certainly easy to drop and lose — especially at my house where it would be swept away in tufts of dog hair.
When we drove cross-country three years ago, I realized the mountains I’d seen in the Northeast couldn’t compare with the Rockies. So when Jesus talks about mustard seeds of faith moving mountains — I pause to consider life and take a deep breath.
I can relate to the mustard seed of faith. Many times it takes all I can muster to find the little seeds of faith enough to keep going for the day at hand.
And I can certainly appreciate the metaphor of obstacles as mountains. But moving those obstacles — especially with a mustard seed size of faith – is still a challenge for me, as I would imagine it is for most people.
In the last few months, I’ve been feeling like those mountains have been growing — or at the very least looming – and I know I am not alone in this experience. Many of my friends are experiencing the same thing. Obstacles loom like large mountains that seem to cast a shadow on a peace-filled life.
We’ve been on a roller coaster since early May with long hospital stays and surgeries. Every time I thought we could begin to recover, we’d encounter another obstacle — an infection and bleeding in the brain, shunt malfunctions, and wounds that refused to heal.
Staying in Manhattan at Jo’s bedside in the hospital — I was distracted by these difficulties and by the routines of hospital stays that don’t jive with normal life.
Lights that stay on all night and frequent neurological assessments made it hard to sleep. The busy streets of Manhattan were a distant din compared to the buzz of night shifts in the ICU. Discouragement, exhaustion and bad news made it hard to keep the faith and a positive attitude — both of which are essential in the healing of body and soul.
This is where the mustard seed of faith meets the morning light.
It’s no secret that I am a morning person. The last line of the classic ‘Gone With the Wind,” spoken by Scarlett O’Hara, “After all, tomorrow is another day” could be the epitaph on my tombstone.
But my motivation runs deeper than these optimistic or pious thoughts. It’s founded in life experience and in the truth of God’s Word.
There are many nights that I crawl into bed exhausted from the day, handing over all my troubles into the capable hands of God. Exhaustion precedes surrender but trust gets me through because I have truly seen and experienced this simple truth:
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His mercies never fail. They are new every morning so great is His faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23
There were many nights when I crawled into the sleeper couch beside Jo’s hospital bed thinking that I couldn’t stand for another hour or speak to one more doctor or nurse. I was just exhausted.
But at the end of my strength, there was this mustard seed of faith that believed this simple truth in the Book of Lamentations which allowed me to trust that the Lord would give me new hope and strength in the morning.
And indeed, God always did and does provide me with a new dose of grace in the morning. But it takes cooperation on my part — first, to get out of bed and pray and second, to get that cup of coffee.
At the hospital, it’s a challenge to sneak out before early morning rounds. Surgical residents have to check on patients to report to the attending doctors before the main rounds. The average time for that visit was 6 a.m.
I hate talking to doctors in my pajamas so most days I got up around 5 a.m. to get dressed. I woke early, put on sneakers and clothes and slipped out to take a walk and pray. Most mornings, I stopped outside of a Catholic chapel on Third Avenue and faced the tabernacle where we Catholics believe the Lord dwells in the flesh.
In the early morning just before dawn, the city that never sleeps is somewhat quiet and dark. But the light from the chapel crept out from behind the steel fencing that secures the perimeter of the church. It was there that I stopped, with my head bowed in prayer.
I was sometimes aware of others passing me by as the rhythm of New York City steadily picked up. But most days I was only aware of the presence of the Lord, the giant mountains that loomed ahead and the precious mustard seeds I had to move them.
And those seeds made a difference.
Most days, I continued my walk to sit by the East River. One morning I watched a homeless man flocked by pigeons as he opened bags of seed to feed them.
Immediately I thought of how Jesus used the birds in parables to illustrate how God takes care of us as He cares for the birds of the air. “Your heavenly Father feeds them.” Matthew 6:26.
That day the Lord used a homeless man who shared his seemingly meager resources — and a mustard seed of faith — to care for the birds. How could I not trust God to do as much for me?
It helps that I witness Johanna using her own mustard seeds of faith every day. This past summer, we let go of an important routine. Since Johanna was a toddler, I have walked alongside her into the operating room and sung her a lullaby and prayed with her as she was put to sleep.
It took over 20 years, but last month we started a new routine. For the first time in all those years, Jo went into the operating room without me. It took a lot of courage and a mustard seed of faith to move the mountain of fear before her — but I knew she could do it.
So now, we pray together and sing as we wait for the doctors and nurses to take her into the operating room. Before the last surgery, we sang this song that Johanna has been practicing to perform in a show at NYU next month. If she ever needs another surgery — hopefully NOT — I think this song is going to be our new routine. It’s a mustard seed of faith reminding us, “hope is never lost – you’re gonna be okay.” (“You’re Gonna Be Okay” Brian and Jenn Johnson-Bethel Music)
Here is our mustard seed of faith that moved a mountain of fear:
As Jo now recovers at home each day presents new joys and challenges but the guiding principles and routines are the same. As exhausted as I may be at the end of the day — I surrender it all to the Lord. I take that mustard seed of faith, expecting the Lord to give me grace at the beginning of the next day, so I can take the next right step to move mountains.
Jo pushes herself to do her part to move mountains, with more steps to take, more artwork to create and songs to sing.
In all these things Jo reminds me of Jesus’ promises for mustard seeds that move mountains: “Nothing will be impossible for you.” Mt. 17:21
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