My doctoral advisor called them dime-between-seat-cushion dilemmas: making an attempt to retrieve the dime requires moving the cushion, which makes the dime slide farther down between the cushions; not making an attempt keeps the dime in place, but still doesn’t get the dime out. Either way, the dime remains beyond reach. Dimeless if you reach for the dime, dimeless if you don’t.
Of course, there are other ways to get the dime. If you happen to have a thin blade, you could come up from beneath the coin and try to pop it up and out. If you don’t mind pulling the cushions apart, you can let the dime fall to the bottom of the chair and then pick it up – assuming that the cushions are removable and the dime doesn’t fall out of reach into the coils beneath. You could tip the whole piece of furniture upside down and give it a good shake. But sometimes the rescue requires too much effort or unavailable tools, and the dime remains beyond reach.
Sometimes, it seems like a life of faith is presented as a dime-between-seat-cushion reality: no matter what you do or do not do, it remains beyond reach. So rules come in as a tool to pop it from underneath, and theological treatises offer seat cushion removal instructions. For those of a revolutionary bent, leaders can be found who will tell you to flip the whole thing upside down and let gravity do its thing. But when one or all of these are attempted, the best outcome is a dime you can hold in your hand and the question you hold in your heart: was such a small thing worth such effort? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The problem with all this isn’t the various methods or means of dime-from-cushion removal; the problem is reducing a life of faith to something so small that it can easily fall and get lost between the cracks. You and I will lose our way, and it may feel like parts of our faith drop away like coins in a torn pocket. But these small things, even when they seem so big, aren’t our lives of faith – and they certainly aren’t the entirety of who we are. Whether we try to retrieve them or not, whether they remain beyond our grasp or not, we can be sure that God will offer us a hand and take us home: loved if we do, love if we don’t.