Date Given: 3/14/21
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Hasselback waffle potatoes. You may not know what they are, but they are the source of my greatest shame. OK, that’s not really true. But there is a story about Hassleback waffle potatoes that I would much rather hide from than share publicly. Unfortunately, the sermon title for today is “No More Hiding.” And I don’t know how to be true to that message if I don’t start by telling you a story about Hassleback waffle potatoes.
The date was Sunday, March 7th, 2021. One week ago today. I was at home with Sallie and Hutch, preparing to make dinner for the family. The adventure began innocently enough as I opened our recipe app and started gathering ingredients. The primary ingredient in Hasselback waffle potatoes is your standard Russet baking potato, peeled, and cut into pieces. Those potato pieces are soaked in butter and garlic and salt and a few other things and then baked in the oven until they are crispy, golden, brown perfection. The secret to their crunchy, buttery goodness – is that each potato piece is cut into a thin rectangle, and then you use a knife to cut a grid pattern all across the surface. That grid allows the buttery, tasty goodness to soak into the potato and give it a crispy, almost fried texture in the oven. That grid is what makes them so delightful. That grid was absent from my Hasselback waffle potatoes. But none of that is the embarrassing part.
The embarrassing part comes in at the point in the instructions that say to lay out a chopstick next to the thin potato pieces. You can use the chopstick as a guide for making the grid pattern. The chopstick stops you from accidentally cutting all the way through with your knife… That’s not how I read the instructions. I read that I was supposed to use the chopstick to help cut the potatoes, but not cut them all the way through. And somehow I also missed that they were supposed to be fairly thin squares.
I found myself with little half inch cubes of raw potato, diligently stabbing each one with a chopstick, from at least two different angles. When Sallie saw the finished product on her dinner plate, she immediately knew something had gone terribly wrong. Instead of crunchy, buttery goodness, we had cubes of mushy potato, with two small holes in the side. Looking back, I have no idea why I thought it was a good idea to try and cut a raw potato with a chopstick. Raw potatoes are hard. Chopsticks aren’t made to cut things. I can’t even begin to tell you what I was thinking.
You can probably imagine why I would say that Hasselback waffle potatoes are the source of my greatest shame. Again, it’s not really my greatest shame, but looking back on that moment does force me to ask one very serious question – why didn’t I ask for help? After 10 minutes or so of us both laughing at my absurd choice to stab potatoes with a chopstick, that was the first question Sallie asked me. And it is the question that I have spent most of the last week asking myself.
There’s a level at which I didn’t ask because of stress and exhaustion. Raising a two year old is not for the faint of heart. He was quietly watching TV or playing in the other room while I was cooking. I know in part my brain thought the worst idea would be interrupting a happy moment because who knows what might happen next if he lost focus on what he was doing. But I still could have texted Sallie. Or googled. Or done anything other than stab raw potatoes with a chopstick.
At a deeper level, I have to confess that I occasionally do absurd things because I struggle to embrace the fact that I am not perfect. I like to pretend that I’m smart enough or talented enough to figure out and do anything I put my mind to. I don’t need to ask directions when I can figure it out for myself. I don’t need help when I should be able to solve the puzzle on my own. I can do anything if I think and try hard enough. And that attitude may sound like pride or arrogance, but I can guarantee you 9 times out of 10 it’s my own insecurity. It’s a whole lot easier to pretend I can do anything than it is to admit that I’m only human. It’s easier to say I’m amazing than to let anyone see the fear I carry inside. Which is precisely why it didn’t even occur to me to ask for help. And precisely why I thought it was reasonable to stab raw potatoes with a chopstick.
To be clear, culinary mistakes are not going to make or break my self esteem. But all those insecurities and fears underneath the surface just might. The most frustrating part is that the more we push down and suppress and try to hide insecurity and fear, the more powerful they become. And the more powerful they become, the more likely we are to do absurd things.
Thinking back, I can vividly remember moments when those very same fears were running the show. As long as I’m telling embarrassing stories today, I might as well share one more. I didn’t date at all before college, but I did develop a few major crushes. I almost always played it cool, which is to say I was so terrified that I almost never shared my feelings with anyone. None of that is the embarrassing part.
The embarrassing part is remembering one of the few times when I did share my heart. It was sometime in high school when I decided my best option was to sit down and hand write a letter, complete with poetry, to express the depth of my feelings for a good friend. I don’t think we had even spent a moment alone together or said a word to each other without other friends present. But I wrote that letter…poem included…stamped it, and put it in the mail. An eternity later, she wrote back. As you might have guessed, we stayed friends.
I may not have learned much about dating before college, but I will offer this one tidbit, free of charge today – confessing your love for someone out of the blue, via poetry and the postal service is great for movie plots… and extremely unlikely to work out in real life. It would have been far better to start by asking her on a date or at least having a one on one conversation about SOMEthing, really a conversation about ANYthing before bearing the profound depths of my heart in a multi page, handwritten letter through the mail.
I know there were other options that would have made for a better starting point, but what I remember more than the letter was the fear. The thought of taking a more reasonable step was crippling. To look her in the eye and hear “no” felt like the most devastating outcome I could imagine. So for a long time I said and did nothing. And the more I held back, the more I felt like everything was at stake. So I hid my feelings even more. And the more I hid, the more afraid I was that she would confirm my fear that I’m not good enough or worthy enough to be loved. Obviously I know now that no single person could ever define my worth or lovability. But my teenage brain wasn’t developed enough to understand it back then. And to this day I still struggle to feel it at times. I don’t remember what finally did it, but at some point the pressure of hiding was so strong that sending the letter seemed like the best option.
Hiding from our fears and insecurities leads us to do absurd things. If we’re self aware enough to see it and strong enough to admit it, I’ll bet we can all name a few of the things we’ve done to avoid feeling things we’d rather hide. A midlife crisis might be a distraction from grief over what we thought life was going to be. That constant fight we keep having with a friend or spouse is a way of avoiding the fact that we feel unloved and unappreciated. A character from a TV show I used to watch flew to Yemen to avoid having to admit he wanted to break up with a girlfriend.
Today’s Psalm reminds us that people have been hiding from themselves and refusing to deal with their feelings for centuries. Psalm 107 begins by encouraging God’s people to “give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” Then it offers illustrations of the absurd things God’s people have done instead of accepting and celebrating the steadfast love of God. Our reading for today offers that beginning call to give thanks and then focuses on one particular illustration from verses 17-22. In verse 17 we read, “Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.” I’ll read that again in case you didn’t catch it [READ AGAIN].
People were sick and hurting because of their sinful and broken ways. And how did they respond when they felt pain and affliction? By loathing food of any kind until they drew near to the gates of death. God’s people knew they weren’t perfect and rather than ask for mercy, they starved themselves until they almost died!!! They were so afraid to admit fault, so afraid to be seen as imperfect, so afraid to stop hiding what they knew they’d done wrong that they brought themselves to death’s door. Hiding from our fears and insecurities leads us to do absurd things.
In truth, humans have done absurd things instead of dealing with our feelings since the very beginning. Adam and Eve were created in and for paradise. Yet they were afraid and thought they could hide from God and pretend they had not done the one and only thing God told them not to do. Some of God’s people wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt when all they had to do was ask God for water to drink. A little later, those same people built a golden calf to worship rather than ask God for a reminder of God’s power and presence. Ananias and Saphira were struck dead for trying to hide from their community. Zacchaeus hid in a tree instead of just walking up to Jesus.
Fast forward out of the bible, you can find King Henry the 8th creating the Church of England because he was so terrified that he wouldn’t have a son to carry on his legacy. Alexander Hamilton, and yes I do know this because of the broadway play, published a pamphlet detailing how he cheated on his wife because he was afraid people would think he stole money. Fear of change and losing power led our ancestors to allow slavery in a country that declared all men are created equal. And those same fears led later generations to create “separate but equal” institutions that were anything but. And those same fears still keep us, as a nation, from knowing how to acknowledge, much less resolve, the brokenness left behind by those systems. We do absurd, contradictory, harmful things when we can’t face our fear and insecurity.
In our Psalm, it was when God’s people were at their lowest – when they were “near to the gates of death” – it was only then that they finally cried out to the Lord. And God did what God has done every time we cry out. God saved them from their distress. God healed them. God delivered them from destruction. The more we push down and suppress and try to hide insecurity and fear, the more powerful they become. And the more powerful they become, the more likely we are to do absurd things. Finding an outlet for those feelings is the only path to healing.
A few days after the Hasselback waffle potato incident, I was finally able to admit to Sallie all the weight that I had been carrying. The weight came from assuming I can and should be smart enough to solve all the world’s problems – even in the midst of a once in a generation pandemic, even just a few weeks after the trauma of the winter storm, even while national politics seem so hopelessly broken, even with a toddler who has suddenly stopped falling asleep at night, even while trying to lead a church through a challenging season of discernment with no pre-packaged solutions.
Even with all that’s been happening, I felt sure on some level that I could and should be that smart. Pretending I can do it all lets me hide the anxiety and fear that tell me I’m not enough. Pretending I can do it all also led me to do something absurd rather than admit that I’m not smart enough to do it all on my own.
When I was finally able to name the weight I’d been carrying, I was finally able to start setting it down. Sallie didn’t have some grand solution or prepared speech to get me through it. She simply held me. She let me cry. She reminded me that she loves me and will continue to do so no matter what. And when I finally stopped hiding from my fear and insecurities, they finally started releasing their grip on me.
People often say that marriage is meant to be a reflection of God’s love for us. Whatever anyone else might mean by that, the only thing I’m absolutely, completely sure is true; is that marriage is meant to create the space where we are seen, where we are vulnerable, where we feel safe enough to name the most intimate parts of ourselves that we so desperately hide from the world; and to be loved all the more for it.
So often, simply finding the words and the space to name our feelings gives us an enormous amount of power to get unstuck and start to move forward. Bringing the actual contents of our hearts into the light, refusing to hide it no matter how embarrassing or scary or anything else, letting someone we love see deep into who we actually are – is in itself a profound source of healing and change.
Being seen… and known… and loved by God is the starting point of every change worth making in our world. Through the grace of our God there is no reason to hide. We have nothing to prove, no test to pass, no possible way to separate ourselves from the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ. Before we are anything else, we are loved, we are accepted, we are enough. Each and every one of us. Each and every part of us.
Today, we are invited to give thanks for the steadfast love of our God. We are invited to celebrate the fact that God’s love endures forever.
God’s love endures when we pretend like we have it all under control AND it endures when we admit that we’re struggling.
God’s love endures when we are productive and joyful and feel like we’re doing exactly what we were put on this earth to do AND God’s love endures when we make the same mistakes and fall into the same old habits that we’ve tried to leave behind a thousand times.
God’s love endures through all seasons, in all places, for all time. AND yes, God’s love endures even if we’re so desperate to hide our insecurities that we mail off a love letter, stab a raw potato with a chopstick, or do any of the thousand other absurd things that people have been doing from the beginning of time.
Today, we give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. There is no reason to hide.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.