The Rubber Band Man
One of my favorite movies as a kid was Little Shop of Horrors, a 1986 musical comedy about a poor schlamazel who works at a flower shop, whose world is turned upside down when he finds an alien flytrap that promises to give him fame, fortune, and the girl of his dreams in exchange for feeding it people. Because it was the 80s, naturally this inspired a children's toy.
Instead of body parts, you took turns putting marbles in its mouth until the weight triggered the pod to snap shut. Whoever's marble made the mouth close lost. The mechanism used a tiny rubber band, which broke after too much playing, so my dad bought a bag of colorful rubber bands of various sizes to find the perfect fit to repair it. At some point, I absconded with that bag of rubber bands and it remained in my possession ever since, mindlessly transferred from desk to desk but never used.
Recently, I went to the post office to drop off a stack of postcards I was sending to churches to promote one of my upcoming events. The clerk told me that it would help them during the sorting process if I could wrap my bundles in a rubber band, so when it was time for my next stack of postcards, I cracked out that old bag of rubber bands - cracked being the operative word. As you can imagine, many of these rubber bands - from the 1980s - crumbled in my hand as soon as I pulled them from their ancient Ziploc tomb. Even so, I found enough good ones that I decided to sort through them and see which ones could be salvaged.
As I combed through tiny ribbons of red, blue, green, yellow, and classical rubber band beige, I put the obviously broken pieces to one side, and then tested the elasticity of each individual band. Many snapped immediately, and they went to the discard pile. Unconsciously, I found that I was putting the good ones to my right and the broken ones to my left, which reminded me of Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus describes Judgment Day. He compares sorting people to his left and to his right like sheep and goats; the sheep were his followers who took care of others and tended to the work of ministry, whereas the goats were those who turned a blind eye to the needy. What people often overlook is that Jesus wasn't referring to everyone in the world in this passage; rather, the passage is about believers - differentiating between those who roll up their sleeves to show their faith through their actions and those who are all talk.
Often, when we discuss salvation, we describe it like being rescued, as if we are on a conveyor belt heading towards a furnace while Jesus waits on the sidelines for us to call out and ask him to snatch us from destruction. Salvation is more like me sorting through my rubber bands, deciding which ones I will save and which ones I will part with. When we ask Jesus to "save" us, we're not asking him to rescue us - we're asking him to keep us.
Like Jesus separating the sheep from the goats, I determined which rubber bands I would hold on to and which I would throw away based on whether or not they did the job. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus says to his disciples (and, by extension, to us), "You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again?" (NLT). What happens if salt loses its flavor? You throw it out! Similarly, a rubber band that's become so rigid that it snaps under the slightest pressure isn't good for anything.
Like my 30 year old rubber bands, time and a lack of use can make us grow rigid. The further removed our hearts shift from the work of ministry, the less pliant we become. Elasticity is merely the method of a rubber band, however; it's function is holding things together. When we become rigid, when we become hardhearted, it is impossible to hold challenging situations together because the pressure makes us crack.
There are several ways in which we can become rigid. We can be rigid with our time, robbing ourselves of the opportunity to impact others just because their timetable doesn't match our own. We can also be rigid with our resources, withholding help from those in need because we have rationalized that they made their bed and deserve their circumstances. We can especially become rigid in our views, making any meaningful connection with those who think and believe differently than we do very unlikely. Whether it's our time, resources, or worldviews, the work of ministry requires being flexible.
How elastic are you? How pliant is your faith? Unfortunately, the only way to know for certain is to go through hardships that measure your limits. To test the usefulness of my rubber bands, I had to stretch them, waking them from a 30 year slumber. I'm sure that the process was not pleasant for my rubber bands, any more than it is for us when we face the trials of life, but the reward of that crucible was discovering that their days were not yet over.
Just as rubber bands come in all shapes and sizes, not every person is cut out to do everything. Some rubber bands are heavy-duty, holding plaster molds together for pottery and ceramics. Some are just normal, average bands that are perfect for binding a stack of postcards. Others are small, ideal for fixing a beloved children's toy. Similarly, each of us has something we can do. Not all of us have to go out to faraway lands to do the heavy-duty work of a missionary; most of us are just called to the everyday task of holding our families together. Still others of us can't physically do much, but we can lend a sympathetic ear. Even if you've fallen into a rut, it doesn't mean you're down and out yet. The fact that any of my rubber bands were still good after 30 years blows my mind, and you might be astonished at what you can accomplish once you stretch your legs again. But to reach the limits of your own elasticity, first you must stretch your heart. Then, you can stretch your imagination and really see what you can do.
Jason Korsiak is the author of The Princess Gospels and The Christmas Gospels, and is currently on tour promoting his book, The Superhero Gospels.