grist for the mill
“Grist for the mill,” was a phrase my mother loved to say, one of the many that I never hear anymore which makes me to wonder if they were really all original to her. “Grist for the mill,” would be her comment after an incident that had very mixed outcomes for her. I understood it to mean that whatever comes our way, it is all just raw material to be processed and tempered into a finer product, for a greater good. I wish you could see her face when she’d say it – arched crescent eyebrows lifted, a slight song in her tone – Carol Fredrickson was snarky, before snark was cool. I always liked the way she said it, honestly, because unlike, “It is what it is!”, saying “Grist for the mill!” was a little like swearing.
When I looked into this (you knew this would happen) it turns out that grist historically is the grain that was brought to a local gristmill and received back as flour for bread, a staple in every society. So basically, grist left on its own, was not useful – you had to have it transformed, and you needed someone else to help you do it. Interesting.
Getting our grist milled is not a passive act. The idea of our circumstances being like grist, though, feels super HOPEful to me. What I see as I look at my balled up fists these days is that they are not empty. I’ve got something to work with. My gristy life is my DIY project today.
Last week, I had some phantom anxiety – a strange hollow fear that floated unattached to a situation. I didn’t understand it because as I frisked my life from head to toe, everything turned up ordinary. But something was amiss. God allows this kind gentle foreboding – he does not rescue me from it.
Is your stuff like this? Maybe you’re sitting today somewhere between faint fear and total peril. You do not have all the data. It’s not time to make a final ruling on it. But chances are you do have something in your hands to mill. Gather your resolve and do it. The rumbling unrest God allows is serving a purpose, it’s making you sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s pissing you off. It’s creating in you the kind of gumption required for the work. We never will know that we have what it takes until we had what it took.
As the week went on, after carrying this nervous irritation for days, I felt a break in the ice and some movement beneath it. In the same way the melting winter is giving way to swampy spring across NH, God was transforming my anxiety into a game plan. Then right on time, I read about how Paul prayed this over the believers at Thessalonica.
And I wonder if they shuddered to hear it. Because, excuse me but that sounds like WORK. Sometimes I’m kind of waiting around to be saved without a fight. Aren’t you going to do it for me, God? And the truth is that he is, when I’m ready to get on with it. Like Ruth was.
The book of Ruth is the story of a couple of hopeless homeless widows finding a pathway to a new land, worthful work, holy identity, and the true embrace of love & family. And about one of them getting repaid by God for her honorable faithfulness and strategic creativity. I love it. This week I was stopped cold by this storyline. Look at these two things as you read this part: grain and providence.
And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” Ruth 2:2-5 ESV
Ruth’s is one tough cookie. Suffice it to say, she was not one to take despair and let it have the last word. When Ruth had set her heart fully on the situation she was in, she looked around for opportunity. And I adore how God met her actions with overwhelmingly good outcomes. Who goes to gather the leftovers from a foreigner’s farm, hoping not to be inappropriately bothered by the employed pickers, and comes home with not just grain (THAT she milled herself) but favor, having won the respect of the most important man in town?
The one who trusts in the God of Israel, that’s who.
What I see in God’s great story, ribboning from old covenant to new, is that those who move in faith that their moves matter spiritually AND practically, eyes fixed on the One who is lovingly just, do get his providence. His grace for the blistering work. His banner of protection. His glorious ends, at best, and at worst, his “well done,” at the end of the day. The odds are ever in our favor.
P.S. Today I finished No Other Gods, a study by Kelly Minter, which has been my literary companion for 5 months – and it was transforming and exquisite. If you are looking for a personal study that will kick your butt (and your butt needs kicking), I highly recommend it.