Your six-word story

February 24, 2021 by Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall

What are you giving up for Lent?

This question may seem absurd following the losses we've all sustained during the pandemic. The idea behind this ancient spiritual practice was to encourage self-discipline and even sacrifice to draw closer to the mystery of Jesus' suffering and death we recall during this season. But “loss” has been the watchword of the coronavirus: loss of life and loss of economic stability and loss of “normalcy.” We have been scrupulous about masking and social distancing. We have sacrificed family gatherings, travel, memorial services, choir singing and more to protect one another and promote the health of our communities.

I wonder if our Lenten discipline might be to reflect on the meaning of those losses and to seek God's good purposes in pain and disorientation. I've been intrigued by writer Larry Smith's challenge to describe life in six words — his personal twist on the legendary six-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. He writes, “Some of the most memorable six-word stories arise in the extremes — during our toughest and most joyous moments.”

Here are some of his favorites arising out of the pandemic, all from a New York Times opinion piece from Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.

  • I regret saying “I hate school.”
  • The world has never seemed smaller.
  • Can't smell the campfire on Zoom.
  • Baking bread feeds you and me.

Scripture abounds with six-word sentences of guidance, praise, and hope.

  • God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1)
  • For God so loved the world (John 3:16)
  • Shout to God with joyful songs (Psalm 47:1b)
  • Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)

The story is told of the great Jewish teacher Hillel being challenged to recite the entire Torah while standing on one foot. The gentle sage replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus said that upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

I hope you'll take a moment right now to stop and consider your six-word story of the pandemic. Don't give up until you can identify along with the losses, the blessings you've experienced.

May it be a witness to God's grace and presence with you through this difficult time, a reminder of Divine love which went the distance — all the way to the cross — to bring light and life nothing can extinguish.

Gracious God, stay close to us.
Shine Jesus' light on our path.
Grant courage and grace to persevere
And in all things, give thanks.

Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall serves as pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Denver. She has also served as pastor of congregations in Cleveland, Detroit, and Iowa. She received a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She has co-authored two Bible studies– The Face Is Familiar: Remembering Unnamed Women in Scripture, and Peacemaking in Mark: Restoring God's Community of Men and Women. Louise is the mother of a son, Paul, an attorney in Washington, D.C. An ardent baseball fan, she once sang the National Anthem at a Cleveland Indians game.