G.K. Chesterton and several other literary figures were once asked what book they’d want to have with them, if they were stranded alone on a desert island.
“The complete works of William Shakespeare”, one writer quickly replied.
“I’d choose the Bible”, offered another.
“And what about you?” they asked Chesterton, who thought about it for a moment and then replied, “I’d want to have Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”
A wise man, that Chesterton. And a good reminder to all of us that sometimes it is enough to supply “just the facts, ma’am”, and to ask only for what we need in the moment.
Years ago when I was pastor of the Silverton United Methodist Church, I led a church retreat in which I asked everyone to come up with a title and the first five chapters for their own autobiography. One of the young men on this retreat was a bit uncomfortable with any kind of personal sharing (he told me his palms would begin to sweat at the beginning of every Bible study class when we did the “check in” with each other), and this is how he responded to that exercise: the title of his book was Just the Facts, Ma’am; and his first five chapters were labeled:
Chapter One: I Was Born
Chapter Two: To School and Back Home
Chapter Three: Love and Marriage
Chapter Four: Daddy
Chapter Five: The Working World
It was enough to give the group the essence of a life – no more, no less. It was just exactly what I had asked for in that one moment. And it was enough.
The temptation can be great to come to church, to engage with fellow believers, even to approach God and ask for “The Complete Works” of life. When all we really need is “The Practical Guide” to the present moment. The recognition that sometimes “Just the Facts, Ma’am” is enough can be the beginning of spiritual wisdom which enables us to stay awake and aware in the here and now.