I always knew it would be a great day when Sarah Goodson walked through the door of our church carrying her big purse. Raised during the Depression on a sharecropper’s farm in the South Carolina low country, Sarah loved two things in this life more than anything: her family and taking care of others. She moved to New York City in the 1940s to give her family a better life, and she became a nurse in order to care for others.
She shaped her life around making those two things a priority, including what she carried in her purse.
I’m not going to kid you, I love all my congregation, but I especially loved to see Sarah coming in with her big ole purse because I knew what was in it. After each service, she would open that overstuffed pocketbook and pull out the newest photos of her grandkids (not individual photos, but books of photos). Then, as the picture albums were being passed around, little Ziploc bags and Tupperware containers would magically emerge from that purse - bags full of fried chicken, collard greens, shrimp and okra gumbo, oxtail stew, hot corn muffins with blueberries, and, of course, peanut butter pie.
One time I asked Sarah how she got all that stuff in her purse, and she told me about a ritual she performed every Saturday night. She would sit at her kitchen table, remove all the extra, heavy junk in her bag that she had collected during the week, then fill it back up with the important things: photos of her grandkids and food to feed her church.
It was such a simple thing, cleaning out a purse. Yet it had such an impact - the smiles on people’s faces as they looked at the photos of the grandchildren and the comfort felt by all who ate that delicious food made with pure love.
Perhaps we should all do a little Saturday night purse cleaning of our own hearts. Let’s start with this question: What emotional baggage are you carrying today that you should unload?
Everyone’s answer is probably different, but I’m going to pick one that I bet most of us carry: worry. Easy to do, fixes nothing. The Rev. Joyce Myers once said, “Worry is like a rocking chair - it’s always in motion, but it never gets you anywhere.”
Worry can take over our lives, crowd out any and all things that matter, even make us sick. But we have an alternative. We can clean out the purse of our heart and hand our worries over to a greater power. Jesus said, “Come to me all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Bottom line: worry or believe. You can’t do both.
This leads to my next question: What will you put in the place of worry? What is important to you? For what purpose are you here?
I suggest that we follow Sarah’s lead in this, too. When I had the great honor of performing Sarah’s funeral after she passed away several years ago, the message that people shared over and over was that she had brought them joy and made them feel loved.
Is there any greater legacy?
This week, I invite you to do a Saturday night purse cleaning in your life. Identify the things that are weighing you down emotionally, physically or spiritually. Let them go. Then, take your newfound time and energy and focus it on the important things. Spend time with your family. Share photographs that make people smile. Stuff a Ziploc bag of yummy food in your purse or pocket and share it with others.
Bring a little love and joy to this hungry world. And do it today. Life is too hard and too short to carry things that just don’t matter.
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. The author of Laugh Your Way to Grace and Preaching Punchlines, Susan is a nationally known speaker on the healing power of humor. Contact her through her email at email@example.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.