Tuesdays with Morrie, a 1997 book by Mitch Albom about his conversations with ALS patient Morrie Schwartz, made wisdom from our elders popular, especially if those elders are dying. There is something about dying that clarifies the mind and reveals what is especially important. My father-in-law Jack is my Morrie.
He was diagnosed with untreatable stomach cancer in March 2011, and our entire family had the opportunity to spend time with him in June.
I would sneak in for extra time.
I missed his recitation of Psalm 121, which he offered to family and friends a few weeks before, while he was recovering from unsuccessful chemotherapy. I was not going to miss anything else. That’s how I got to hear the sparrow story.
He began with a story he heard from a woman in his small group—he is a beloved small group leader at Saddleback Community Church in Southern California. While this woman was praying for her grandson, who is a medic in Afghanistan, she noticed an image of a cross shining on the wall in her room. She received this display as confirmation of God’s gracious care for her. Though some might take it as a coincidence, a random convergence of sunlight and errant window blinds, she understood it as a personal gift, which made Scripture even more personal to her.
When my father-in-law heard this story, he was blessed, yet it also reminded him that he never had such an experience, which was fine with him since he was persuaded that the Word of God was always personal. But still . . . .
Then the sparrow came to his window. He was having a bad day, so weak he was unable to move his head without exertion, and he was facing the window in his room. The sparrow sat on the wrought iron rail right outside the open window, and it started making a rumpus. The bird was immoveable. Single-mindedly committed to its chorus for an audience of one. A long chorus. Until the message became obvious.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matt. 10:29-31)
Dad knew the passage. He probably preached on it a few times. But there are times when a passage becomes our own. The Lord doesn’t promise that he will personalize a passage just for us, but occasionally he does. And, as we might suspect, the Lord seems to take particular pleasure in personalizing passages for the sick. It is a way he shows compassion and gives hope.
And here is another feature of the ways of God. Though he is pleased to speak to one person, he also puts his glory on display for many. He spoke to my father-in-law, but he didn’t stop there. He took this sparrow’s song and passed it to me, and to my wife, who still cries when she thinks about it, and to my children, who cried when they heard it, and to my mother-in-law, and now—to you. This passage, in a vicarious way, has become our own. It has become God’s personal gift to all of us.
And the sparrow has returned.
Every day for a week.
Dad began to call it “my sparrow.”
And then Dad recited the words from this hymn to me.
I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.