“And they answered Joshua, ‘All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.'” Joshua 1:16
As this season moves on, seeing the sea of billowing baskets growing can be an overwhelming experience. Shiny cellophane encapsulating beautiful pieces of love built by human hands. Piles steadily rising in every space possible. It is often astonishing to the heart and the mind. In amazement, it literally causes many to gasp or exclaim excitedly their awe.
It was after the first season of building, when we had decided to make collecting items and assembling baskets a yearly outreach, that some people became insistent that we should be counting the number of baskets being built. Their logic seemed reasonable, and so that season I put out a pad of paper, near what was then our wrapping area, for people to jot down how many baskets they had wrapped.
It failed miserably. We would get busy building and wrapping, and the next thing we would know, none of us could remember whether we had counted baskets, where it had left off, or who had left a check mark. I tried moving the pad around to other spots, but it just didn’t work. Plus something didn’t feel right.
Yet the chorus grew: “You have to know! You should want to know!! It is crucial in knowing; it will help you to go further.” But I started to ask, “Is it really that important? Would it really aid us, and if so, how?” What was the purpose of having to know, especially since a final goal has never really been a part of what we do anyways? God has always led us to hearts in need as this outreach has expanded. Our goal has simply been to make them as well as possible, and when that possibility stops, we stop.
So, I took away the note pad. I found the courage to say, “It just doesn’t work to count. We don’t.” And I left it at that. Following the nudge in my heart, I became okay with defending the idea, though I couldn’t explain it, that we don’t count baskets as we make them.
Then one day, as I was pondering the never-ending cry to count baskets that I was hearing, I opened my Bible to a story that I had heard of but hadn’t thought of in quite some time. It was King David. Before him had been a time of many victories, and yet, David decided to count his army. His top adviser had warned him of the sin in doing so, but David did not listen. His pride had gotten the best of him. He wanted to know just how great his army was (his “pile” of soldiers) and insisted it be done. But understand, he didn’t need to know…for his victories were never dependent on his numbers but rather God being with him.
God’s initial instructions to the Israelites were that they rely upon Him. Not their numbers, not their chariots, not their horses. It wasn’t the size of the army they had, for Gideon was able to defeat their enemies with just 300 men–after dismissing thousands who were unwilling to take a stand. David knew this, and so, when he found himself enticed with the desire to know just how great his army was, he was no longer following God to His glory, but focusing on his own.
It was at that moment that I found myself deeply humbled and thanking God for thwarting our ability to count and giving me the courage to turn away from what everyone else was demanding. I understood more clearly that if we focused on counting the number of baskets we built, numbers would become the almighty goal. We would grow prideful in our strength and less acknowledging of God’s. Rather, by not counting, we were driven to trust Him and build with love instead of in pride.
That is what I tell those that come. Those who see those massive piles of shimmering baskets that excite the eyes. While it looks like a lot, and is, there is no pressure to build as many as possible. If they take the whole ninety minutes to build just one, that is okay because we trust there is a reason that basket (and soul receiving) needs so much time, attention and love. Hence, we encourage the basket builders to take their time and build with as much love and detail as they can. And that is where we often see a light bulb go off and shoulders relax. The pressure is off to individually add another foot to the Easter basket pile.
And so it was with a mom and friend who came to build one afternoon. Being of an organized and efficient background, she was ready to get on task and build as many as possible. You know, really be “helpful” to our outreach! As I gave them a tour and gently explained the story of why we don’t count, she listened but said little. When we began to build, she became enthralled with doing so. Her baskets turned out over-the-top beautiful!
When the time drew to a close, she shared that hearing the message that she didn’t need to worry about the numbers she could build had released her from feeling the pressure to produce. Without the pressure, she was able to truly focus on searching for what might be inspiring to another. Before she knew it, she was loving the whole experience.
In great joy, she exclaimed, “I hope they love these baskets as much as I have loved putting them together!” I smiled and shared that I had no doubt they would. It was in that moment, some nine years later, that I saw the seed of that message really hit home in releasing the pressure of doing the most and replacing it with just the simple and wonderful delight of being able to build. That serving God shouldn’t be about numbers and self-glory, but rather driven by love, kindness, excitement, prudence, diligence and doing the best that you can with what He brings. Allowing happiness and contentment to reign over the desire to compete and do more. Focusing with humble amazement on the beauty of what is before you, rather than running after what may, or may not, lie ahead.
As I sat there, many years ago, looking at David’s story, I decided to look up the word “count” just to see if there was something more than what I understood on its face. Much to my surprise and relief, I learned that the antonym to count is “estimate”. It was what we have been doing since I have taken away the note pad…estimating. I remember feeling a sigh of relief and a newfound dose of courage. Estimating allows us to have an idea of what we have so that we can reach out to others as a season develops. Yet, it keeps us from becoming focused on what our hands, what our “numbers”, can accomplish. It leads us back, time and again, to relying on God rather than ourselves. It quietly holds the numbers in the background and directs the goal to being about what is inside those baskets rather than how tall the shiny pile of cellophane becomes.
Less pressure to build the “most”, we have learned, brings the greatest joy to the soul serving as well as the one receiving…
“Be strong and courageous, for you will cause this people to inherit the land I swore to their fathers to give them.” Joshua 1: 6